My friend Erik Proulx is in the midst of his second Lemonade film, this one telling the story of what we all hope might be Detroit’s resurrection. As with his first film, the original Lemonade, it’s not government policy or unemployment checks, or even the bailout of the automobile industry – don’t get me wrong I was in favor of a better stimulus package than the one we actually got – that restores an economy, it’s personal and collective optimism, achievement and creativity.
And so it will be with Detroit. The often ill-fated attempts at urban renewal and the erection of shiny glass buildings are never what make a city great – it’s the people who live there. Erik’s film focuses on such people and as an exploration into the spirit and passion of Detroit residents intent on bringing the city back it paints a picture of hope and possibility.
Erik released the extended trailer of Lemonade Detroit right as I happen to be reading Edward Glaeser’sTriumph of the City. Erik’s premise is that with enough will power and motivation (the latter often comes from having got kicked pretty good) people have the ability to turn lemons into Lemonade. Glaeser’s hypothesis is that cities magnify those qualities. They attract innovators and entrepreneurs, place them in proximity to one another and encourage interaction, collisions and social mobility.
In the late 1800’s right before Detroit became the center of the automotive universe, the city looked a lot like Silicon Valley in the very early days of the computer industry. Dozens of small, innovative firms and an army of entrepreneurs – Henry Ford, Ransom Olds, David Buick – fueled each other’s ideas, created a community of competition and attracted investors.
A culture of learning and experimentation, and communication among and between industry pioneers, led to the growth of both a city and an industry. Detroit was a center of knowledge. If you were in the car business you needed to be there.
But unlike Silicon Valley, where constant learning, education, and ideas continue to attract thinkers, Detroit’s industrial model led to the opposite: a culture and a massive scale production process which, according to Glaeser, turned out to be “antithetical to the urban virtues of competition and connection.”
Instead, because the assembly line made it possible to be highly productive without knowing that much, it killed the need for learning and attracted the kind of worker for whom learning didn’t matter. According to Glaeser’s thesis, as soon as that happened Detroit was destined to die. “When a city creates a powerful enough knowledge-destroying idea, it sets itself up for self-destruction,” the author writes.
In the end the same industry that made Detroit great ended up destroying it. The vertical integration of the automobile companies crowded out new ideas, spinoffs and alternative industries.
Erik’s film suggests that if urban re-invention is possible it will emanate from a diverse mix with of human capital. Entrepreneurs, artists, educators and other creative people are the ones who’ll make it happen. They’ll make new connections, riff off of each other, and maybe turn Detroit into the kind of city that Glaeser writes about: one that attracts smart people and enables them to work collaboratively to build something lasting.
Kudos to Erik for celebrating the human spirit and making us all more hopeful.
A couple of months ago some friends at Made by Many and Good for Nothing in the UK decided they had to do something, or at least try to do something, about the severe famine in East Africa. In Kenya and Somalia a child dies every six minutes. The worst drought in 60 years plagues the region. And the world isn’t paying much attention.
So Made by Many and Good for Nothing started the 50/50 project – the idea being to get friends and partners — advertising and digital agencies mostly — to launch 50 projects in 50 days to raise at least $1 million, perhaps much more, for relief. Today is the official launch day for many of those projects. October 16.World Food Day.
Our project at Mullen is called The Good Belly Project. We realize that we can’t actually transport food to East Africa. We can’t secure a fleet of helicopters. We can’t establish an on ground presence.
So here’s what we did. We launched a social-media powered fundraising partnership with 17 of Boston’s top restaurants and their customers using Instagram. Every time a customer takes a photograph of their restaurant meal and shares it, the participating restaurant will donate $1.00 to the Good Belly Project, which transfers 100 percent of the proceeds to UNICEF’s East Africa’s relief efforts.
Yes there’s a kind of absurd irony in posting photographs of gourmet meals in order to help people who are starving. But at the same time there’s a logic to it. It’s the ideal time and place to remind people who have plenty to eat how fortunate they are. It taps into an existing behavior – food porn is pretty prevalent on photo sharing networks like Instagram. And it gives the participating restaurants something in return for their contribution. A bit of visibility and cred for supporting the cause.
I hope you’ll join us over the next few weeks. You can frequent the restaurants that have offered to help. You can post food porn images. And you can, perhaps, realize how fortunate you are to have food in your belly and maybe write a big fat check to help those less fortunate. Feel free to make that donation here, at the Good Belly Project.
Good Belly Restaurants (links and addresses):
- Abigail’s American
- Bambara American
- Bergamot American
- Bon Me Truck Food Truck
- Figs Beacon Hill Pizza
- Figs Charlestown Pizza
- Fillbelly’s Food Truck
- Hillstone American
- Isabelle’s CurlycakesBakery
- Island Creek Oyster BarSeafood
- Kingfish Hall Seafood
- KO Prime Steakhouse
- Market by Jean GeorgesAmerican
- Naked Pizza Pizza
- Rialto Restaurant + BarItalian
- Sibling Rivalry American
- Stephi’s On TremontAmerican
I can’t help it. I look at everything through the filter of either creativity, innovation or advertising. So while watching Martin Scorcese’s new documentary about George Harrison, I found this to be one of my favorite anecdotes. Paul McCartney recalls what it was like to prepare for a recording session.
Now, keep in mind that in the 70’s most advertising agency creative teams would insist on two weeks to copy and layout. Didn’t matter whether it was a full campaign, or a single ad. The Beatles, meanwhile, could generate a song a day. On demand no less.
The second part of the story, of course, is about collaboration. John and Paul would show up a week later with their seven or eight songs, all of which were news to their band mates, and within a matter of minutes George and Ringo would be adding riffs and the backbeat, making the idea, the song, the music better.
I imagine that anyone who has ever played in a band knows that this is how it works, or should. But I couldn’t help but be inspired by these recollections from Paul as he talked about his non-writing (at the time) partners. “They’d go ‘uh huh.’ And George would be like, ‘I can see what you’re doing. I’m one of you.’”
That is how collaboration is supposed to work. It’s the epitome of celebrating the idea instead of the person who came up with it. It’s a great great lesson for all of us working as part of a creative team in the new on demand world. If you’re not the one who makes the idea, be the one who makes the idea better.
Decades later, The Beatles still inspire. Think I’ll go and dig out some old LPs. Oh, and if you have not seen Martin Scorcese’s new two-part documentary George Harrison: Living in a Material World, you must. It’s on HBO right now.
I’m on my way to Minneapolis at the invitation of my friend Tim Brunelle, CEO of the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association, for MIMA Summit 2011. From everything I can gather he has an awesome session planned. Google’s analytics guru Avinash Kaushik and Wired’s Chris Anderson both keynote; the list of speakers is impressive; and the sessions are all designed to inspire action.
I’m doing a session with the prolific and omnipresent David Armano. It’s called Group Therapy for Would Be Innovators. We both decided to eschew Powerpoint, panels and pontification. Instead we hope to conduct a large group discussion that covers the following
- What does innovation even mean inside an agency?
- Can agencies actually create value beyond service?
- Should they think in terms of creating their own products?
- Does the service model get in the way?
- How can culture, space, and team structures help
- Is the role of CIO even necessary?
- How much should you invest in innovation?
For some reason innovation appears to be the new industry buzzword. As a result it gets overused, applied to everything, and sometimes pursued with no clear purpose. My thoughts on the subject are simple.
We need to innovate for three reasons.
To keep up with changing consumer behavior.
In just a few years our consumers have turned into content creators and distribution channels. Our old media connected information to them. New media connected them to information. But social media connects people to each other. That means agencies have to invent new ways to engage. We have to master transmedia story telling. We need to get better at gaming dynamics. It takes new kinds of work, teams, briefs and processes to be effective and that is a form of cultural and organization innovation.
To create new products and IP
Who says an agency can’t invent the next Groupon or Instagram or Kickstarter. Our companies are filled with talented, creative, idea generating people. But most of us can only think like service companies. It’s why people like Matt Britton, who created Crowdtap, had to take his idea outside of his agency. Granted some of us are trying to do this with internal labs or various kinds of internal spinoffs, but it takes a software mindset rather than an agency mindset. You need to be faster, more agile and comfortable with prototyping.
To assure long term growth
We spend an inordinate amount of time maximizing how we deliver current services to current clients. Pitches drain our time and energy when we try to sell current services to new clients. It’s often a challenge to develop new services, products or IP for clients who came to us for a different reason. So maybe we ought to carve off at least a percentage of time, money and resources to invent new services or products for either our own firms or client companies who are willing to experiment with us. If one thing is certain it’s this: in transformative times incumbents rarely survive.
None of this is easy. We have to get buy-in, plant seeds, change people, discover new partners. But it beats sitting around watching other people do it first and admiring their accomplishments.
I’m hoping the MIMA sessions yield some great discussion and inspire some new ideas. Wouldn’t it be great if next year we were listening to someone in this year’s audience present their latest innovation.
I feel very fortunate to be among the 400 people invited to attend Google’s Zeitgeist 11. So many great talks and genuinely inspiring ideas. Here are a few of my favorites.
The brilliant Robert Reich on us and them. He talks about why we can’t (or won’t) solve unemployment or address poverty among families with children. Reason? Us and them. They are not one of us. They are not in our community of concern. They are not people with whom we share interdependency. Too bad he’s not running the country.
You may never have heard of Jean-Philippe Vergne, Professor, R. Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario. But he will give you an entirely new perspective on the value of inviting your users, customers, community into the creation of your brand and company. He argues that pirates and hackers actually make things better. Those in control not so much.
And finally, this young dude, Adam Braun. It’s not so much that he took up a cause, though he did. Or that he built 40 schools around the world, though he did. Rather it’s the idea that he has re-defined not-for-profit, labeling it “for-purpose,” and applying for profit principles and practices to Pencils of Promise.
There were many other great speakers and endless conversations about possibilities. You can find more of them on the Zeitgeist YouTube page. If you want to be totally blown away, watch some of the young minds talk about what they’re up to. You’ll either think you wasted your youth entirely, or that you better get on your kids’ asses real soon. If you’re a news junkie, check out Koppel and Ariana going at it(gently but still) in this panel conducted by New Yorker editor Nicholas Thompson.
Thanks to Google for sharing all of this content with those of us who attended and the many more who didn’t. Watch. Learn. Be inspired.