Jan 30, 2013
This has been the sickest winter of my life. And from what I can tell, every other New Yorker's life. The subways have perfectly networked our germs beyond repairability, elevators are made more and less awkward by choruses of synchronized booger sucking, and drugstore posters for the flu shot have been resignedly replaced with advertisements for store-brand decongestants. It's dire, and it sucks, and it's everywhere.
Watching these bugs spread their way around the city has reminded me of the spread of other things. Things that are much more pleasant to think about than boogers, like street art and American-made goods and, eh, ok - the #hashtag. Because unlike the flu, cultural movements take a few years to really prove their presence, but in most aspects they're similar: with bugs, one day you're fine, the next day you're a feverish zombie; with cultural shifts, one year you wake up and give your kid his breakfast. The next year, you wake up, beautifully plate your kid’s breakfast, instagram it, tweet it, give the breakfast to your kid, instagram him eating it, add hashtags to flag the quality of your kid's breakfast and your parenting (#morningsunshine #organic #kidfriendly #lovemommy) and await the loves and likes that will confirm your morning was publicly acceptable.
The (poorly understood) parallels between viruses and virality are old news, but the mysteries behind both terms are still subjects of major fascination. Understanding the spread of sickness is crucial for the keeping of health, and cracking the code on cultural shifts is one of the most valuable tools for designing effective brand strategies - and so, the hunt continues.
But cracking the code on cultural shifts is actually less mysterious than it seems, because at the end of the day, it's not about black magic, and only gutturally about sociology. Creating and maintaining brand relevancy within a world of constantly shifting culture is about risks, and being brave enough to take them. It's also - and here's where big brands so commonly lose their edge to startups - about timing.
Typically, established companies wait for new trends or movements to cross a tipping point before attempting to align with them. Startups, on the other hand, tend to embody the core ideas of these future shifts at their infancy. One of these approaches can make a brand the defining voice of a movement; the other can make it almost impossible for a brand to get a word in edgewise. You can probably guess which is which.
As a booringly classic but universal example, Twitter didn't catch on because millions of people were already begging for a platform to support 140-character realtime status updates. It caught fire because a small group of wired people were participants in an emerging culture of extreme openness, and Twitter planted a flag, launched and became their champion. Years later - after a slow but steady crawl towards ubiquity - mass culture had officially embraced information sharing, and Twitter was synonymous with that shift.
And in 2011, a handful of investors were already dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs with missions to change the world. But a wider group of entrepreneurs - with missions to change their own communities - was existing on the fringe with nowhere to go. Within two years of launching COMMON - which we designed as a home for this category of creative, more localized social innovators - the brand was almost synonymous with the growing (and by then, international) movement.
Magnetically aligning a brand with emerging culture is something that startups are really good at, because startup culture is all about making wild bets on a barely foreseeable future. But in the risk-averse world of more established brands, stories like these this are rare. When a good one does pop up, it's usually reserved for desperate times of major reinvention, like bankruptcy (Chrysler's turnaround story is one of my favorites).
One obvious tradeoff to this fear of risk is that brands can wind up looking like mere groupies when they finally do try to become "relevant," aversely affecting their relationships with audience segments that are more early-adopting (a term that can sometimes be used interchangeably with “urban,” or “18-34,” or even "lucrative.") Another tradeoff is the ever-elusive "what if" question - e.g., the lost-opportunity cost of what might have been accomplished if a leading role had been established early on. Yet another tradeoff is the one that should be the scariest: whenever a company fails to connect with present day culture, they’re leaving a wide door open for someone else to. Someone like an idiotically unafraid startup.
But how are big brands supposed to take risks when their own internal culture is so dependant on stability?
A few large companies, like Amazon, have tackled this by baking experimenation and invention into their guts. In those examples, you'll find a leader like Jeff Bezos who embodies and enforces the importance of taking risks and providing a safe enviroment for those who do. But in most companies, the leadership support that enables innovation to happen does not exist, so fear squashes most attempts to behave otherwise. (And fair enough, because most high-level execs at major companies didn't get there by being innovative. They get there by being really good at optimizing for the present, not the future.)
The good news is, in about 10-15 years I think they'll be a significant enough exec turnover and cultural pressure that we'll start seeing a different, wilder, more creative story unfold.
And the other good news is, the years in between (and the bubbling startup culture we're lucky enough to be experiencing in tandem) represent all the opportunity that this generation of entrepreneurs will ever need.
(So get after it ;)
Dec 14, 2012
Will Turnage, VP of Technology and Invention at R/GA, chats with 99U about "Technology First," a brainstorming tactic that gives R/GA's digital products and campaigns the edge they're so famous for.
Nov 20, 2012
I'm so excited to be in the final countdown for COMMON Pitch Chile, COMMON's fifth social innovation pitch competition.
This one's a bit special, with a full three days of programming including a keynote by Al Gore and performances by Devotchka and Devendra Banhart - quite the leap forward when I think of our first event, which lasted three hours and had TENNIS as our musical headliner (who went on to record their next album with Patrick from The Black Keys, by the way - so proud of them too).
Oct 11, 2012
Watch this video. Not only is it full of adorably obese polar bears and smooched with a catchy Jason Mraz jingle, but it's also the very potent result of a collab between Alex Bogusky, Common, The Butler Brothers and CSPI. It also happens to be about some important shit.
It's easy to bruch off this recent anti-soda movement as a consolidated f-you to the CocaCola's and PepsiCo's of the world, but in reality, this sugar war is a lot broader than that.
Uh, no pun intended.
The thing is, sugar has snuck into just about everything that the average american swallows, and by average American I don't mean average upper-middle class yupster with an organic problem. I mean the other 300 million people who live here, the everyday everymen whose access to good food - and education about it - is far behind what it should be if we truly care about the wellbeing of our fellow inhabitants.
But none of that would matter if it weren't for this: sugar beats you up. Not only does it create addicitive neurological chemical reactions that mirror those of heroin (which sounds scary, but actually isn't all that uncommon - facebook does that too), but more and more studies are starting to sort out the literal poisoning effect it has on our body's system over time. it's not just about 30 extra pounds, its about diabetes and attention disorders and mood issues and organ dysfunction. And of course, it's about kids.
We're at the earliest stages of growing this conversation into something disarming enough to make a difference, but that's fine. As long as we blow on it a little, it'll get to where it needs to go the most. And by blowing, I guess I mean sharing, which I only rarely really feel compelled to do in that "good citizen" sort of way. So I'll be spamming a few folks with this shortly, and I hope you do the same - think teachers, mothers, mannies, mayors - then we can all get together and design a super fat polar bear furry mascot outfit and lolly around Washington in it or something. Just kidding. Eh, not kidding. Now share it!
Sep 20, 2012
Not too long ago, facebook's addition of cover photos (as part of other very significant UI changes) marked the first day emerging social nets could genuinely compete with them.
By turning each interaction of facebook into its own distinct modul - something that retroactively applied the same action to past interactions - facebook effectively redesigned themelves to fully embrace what in some theoretical respects they'd already become: a publishing platform.
Broadly, this was a smart move that categorized our Facebook activities into multiple monetizable possibilities for Facebook's ad team. But a consequence of this action was something they might never have undertaken in the past - one really only worth taking once they'd reached the scale of the last few years.
If you, like me, have been on facebook since its beginning (or even near it), it's possible to flip back through your timeline several years. In doing so - and especially if you're a student of human communication - you'll notice something interesting: as the years unwind, your facebook interactions become less and less "editorialized." Interactions from 2005 between friends share the same intimacy as those you might experience at a slumber party, whereas interactions between friends in 2012 share the intimacy of, well, the things you might do in front of someone whose opinion of you requires some strategic management. Like your mother, or your boss, or the search engine users who can be exposed to your last update with the click of a button. Same goes for content shared, interactions taken, opinions expressed.
There's an obvious explananation for this, obviously: Your mother was not on Facebook in 2005. So where we once were raw, exposed, a sometimes embarrassingly accurate mirror image of our former selves, today we're buttoned, ironed and for the most part, exhibiting the Linkedin version of our social selves.
Not that this is altogether bad, or bad for advertisers specifically (though it does, in effect, sort of fence off a few things they'd hoped to be able to achieve in this new territory - that's for another post). But if a social network's original purpose was to be the online coffeeshop where our digital actions mirror the ones we have in real life, then facebook is no longer the place where that can happen. And that, my friends, is a real opportunity - sort of like the one facebook had over myspace.
There are buckets of startups attempting to reinvent digital intimacy, working to design gathering places that are honest, private or private-ish and, in some cases, devoid of the exhibitionist narcism that so often overtakes social nets. Pair, or even Tumblr and Wander are interesting examples of that (and some of my best buds are sneakily working away on one I can't wait to play with). But for now, it's weird - I'm back to my original place for maintaining the connections I care most deeply about: the phone. Sometimes Skype. Could it possibly be time for a new social platform that integrates these things directly? Or maybe more interestingly, some innovation in mobile/telecom that provides some awesomely integrated hybrid of all those things?
Tuesday, Twitter rolled out cover photos for brands. Again, a smart move that will bring more ad dollars into SOMA. But - BUT - like most things internetty, there is always an odd correllation between monetization and mutiny (or system dysfuntion, if you don't speak pirate), so I wonder what doors that opens there too.
Jul 25, 2012
I'm so happy to share that Dan Burrier will be joining my man Mark in LA to get busy on COMMON's next moves. I've been watching these two fellas work together for the last few months, and together they're a force to be reckoned with - dedicated, creative, compassionate and fully commited to the kind of future we all hope to wake up in.
Stay tuned for some announcements about a crazy awesome event later this year, and if you want to meet Mark and Dan in the flesh, think about applying for this.
Jul 16, 2012
God knows I'm not anti-internet, nor prone to the kind of ultra-protectivism that desperately and uselessly guards us from risks we opted into taking at birth. But I do think, and I have thought, that we're in an era of technological over-industrialization - something a bit analagous to the over-industrialization of eras past - and don't doubt that articles like this one hold some very significant core truths.
I also wonder - from time to time, mostly when I look up from a few deep hours of internet stupor - if the Twitters and YouTubes of our generation might be the McDonalds' of the next, a new class of megacorps whose intentions were pure but effects were universally disturbing. So what do we do? Stop eating supersized digital hamburgers? Yeah, there's that route. But to stretch an analogy to its limits - maybe we just fast forward to the happy, grassfed cows. Something like the Slow Web.
The first good, peer-reviewed research is emerging, and the picture is much gloomier than the trumpet blasts of Web utopians have allowed. The current incarnation of the Internet—portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive—may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic. Our digitized minds can scan like those of drug addicts, and normal people are breaking down in sad and seemingly new ways.
Jun 18, 2012
Morning people, let's slam some espresso shots and meet up at Alfalfa's on June 21st at 7:45 am to talk food trends.
I'm excited to chat about smart ways for the natural food industry to make the most of America's growing obsession with local food - "the biggest food trend in decades" - using digital marketing and social platforms.
(And don't worry, it's a quick one - just a 15 min talk followed by a Q&A and foodie mingling, then you'll be at your desk before your boss can say "high fructose unicorn syrup.")
More info here - see you there!
May 1, 2012
In an ideal world, the road from idea to reality is proven and predictable, with a distance made fathomable by visible benchmarks. But more frequently - especially in pursuit of less linear concepts like art, drastic innovation, or even paradigm shifts - time is mutable and you can't project when completion will come.
Read more at The 99%
Last week I had a blast presenting at the 2012 Kickoff event for SheSays Boulder, the Colorado chapter of a global creative network for women (one that boasts some really awesome collaborators/initiatives, you should know about them).
We took a retrospective look at internet trends, following each year's emerging technology and subsequent impact on digital communication, branding and even careers. The career part is what wound up cracking me up a bit - because even though it's painfully obvious now, I don't think I've ever consciously acknowledged that my own (short) career is nothing but a succession of jobs that didn't even exist the year before I took them. That either makes me digitally savvy or a miserable trend whore. Meh.
Anyway, because this was a bit of a mentoring event, I paired each year o' the internet with a few important lessons learned during each of them - times when I was working from the back of a classroom, in a coffeeshop, in an agency, in a startup, and now in a startup I'm a partner in. It's crazy how much I've been exposed to, and I'm so grateful for the people that have welcomed me into the places where I learned this stuff. These lessons aren't all that awesome out of context, but a few attendees asked me to post this for future reference. So here you go, gals - and thanks again for having me!
No matter where you live, if you live in the internet you live everywhere.
You are responsible for your own education. And reverse education.
Creativity feels f*cking awesome.
Trust the feeling that feels like exclamation points.
Willpower is power, and vice versa.
Culture comes from the bottom up.
Writing in your pajamas is lovely.
Impeccable communication, while highly rated, is still underrated. Ditto for emotional intelligence.
Everyone has an opinion. You might as well embrace yours.
Internet literacy is actually not common. At all. Yet.
Surround yourself with people you want to be like.
Quarter life crisis are real. And you should welcome them.
Change is really hard.
Data is King, but the King’s too fat to trailblaze.
Sour is scary.
You can always re-find what you were.
Pick your partners well.
Aspire to be balanced.
Ask for help (and find the best help you can find).
Nov 11, 2011
Hooray, y'all - it's time for another COMMON Pitch. To say that I'm excited about bringing this party to NYC does no justice to the way I'm really feeling - which is to say, I'm swooning and shaking and dying. Like in the happy way, not the Black Plague way.
New York pals - saddle up!
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COMMONcm and Social Media Week just announced the opening of submissions for COMMON Pitch NYC, a community event celebrating the next generation of collaborative social platforms. Featuring ten entrepreneurs and their fresh ideas for collaborative consumption, COMMON Pitch will highlight the smartest and most efficient ways to utilize social technologies to borrow, share or trade the things we all need.
Date: Feb 15, 2012
Submissions Open: Nov 11, 2011
Submissions Close: January 9, 2012
More info (including how to apply) here!
Nov 4, 2011
BDW x Fearless recently collab'd to create The Occupationalist, a really nifty news aggregator for the Occupy Movement. I could go on about this project for hours - it's highs, lows, lessons, losses that wound up being wins - but will spare you the words in trade for this awesome video by Nick Todd.
Oct 6, 2011
Sep 21, 2011
Jul 22, 2011
Jun 22, 2011
Apr 24, 2011
Milton Glaser | Manifesto Project
Apr 9, 2011
I'm currrently reading Marty Neumeier's book The Designful Company, and this little equation featured inside it just made me pants-peed gleeful. I'm a little wine buzzed, so there's a chance the clever use of that emoticon just got to my head, but whatever - hope you see the same articulate awesomeness in there that I do.
Apr 8, 2011
So excited to hear that SwipeGood, a startup that rounds your purchases to the nearest dollar, then donates the spare pennies to the charities of your choice, is finally set up to work automatically with credit card companies.
I'm so dang enamored with this idea - simple concept, low-effort involvement, powerful implications. Check them out (and sign up)!