Yes, it’s true. I have become a Possibilian. It seems that in the digital age, if you are an optimist about creating, sharing, innovating, collaborating, it’s the only sensible choice. Anything and everything is possible. Of course, it’s also possible that I, we, all of us, are wrong about that. Which is another advantage of being a Possibilian: you’re open to the possibility that you are, in fact, wrong.
I learned about being a Possibilian at SxSW when I sat in on David Eagleman’s reading of his charming and brilliant book, Sum, Forty Tales from the Aferlives. Eagleman’s collection of 40 totally unrelated stories about what the author imagines might happen in the afterlife explores numerous possibilities, all of them the beneficiary of Eagleman’s rich and wild imagination.
A part-time writer/full-time neuroscientist, Eagleman spends most of his time in a lab conducting research. He took seven years to write 70 stories about what might happen when we expire, then carefully reduced the total to 40 and published his book. To his surprise, it has taken off. Time magazine has raved about it. Brian Eno has composed an opera. And Eagleman has now done readings all over the world.
I can’t say that this book has much to do with either marketing or social media. But it does have an awful lot to do with creativity.
Creativity is looking at the same world or subject or problem that we’ve all looked at for ages and finding a totally new and interesting way to present it, make people think about it, or simply get them to pay attention.
Until Eagleman, I hadn’t thought much about the afterlife in quite a while. Nor had I thought much about God or religion. But he got me to do so. How? By doing what any great creative person needs to do, whether they’re an artist, writer or photographer: he showed me something familiar in a way I’d never looked at it before. Or in this case, read me something I haven’t heard.
My favorite of his readings, was Sum, the first chapter of the book, which imagines this:
In the afterlife you relive all your experiences, but shuffled into a new order; all the moments that share a quality are grouped together.
You spend two months driving the street in front of your house, seven months having sex. You sleep for thirty years without opening your eyes. For five months straight you flip through magazines while sitting on a toilet.
You take all your pain at once, all twenty-seven intense hours of it. Bones break, cars crash, skin is cut, babies born. Once you make it through, it’s agony free for the rest of your life.
It gets better. Strongly suggest you read it if you haven’t already. And consider becoming a Possibilian. Join those who, according to Eagleman, “celebrate the vastness of our ignorance, are unwilling to commit to any particular made-up story, and take pleasure in entertaining multiple hypotheses.”
The concept aligns perfectly with the digital age. As Eagleman says, “We can’t possibly know enough to be either religious or atheist.” I would add that when it comes to everything going on right now, we can’t possibly know (at least all the time) whether we’re right or wrong or whether it will succeed or fail. That’s why we keep experimenting.
I arrived in Austin yesterday around 5:00 pm, checked into my hotel and headed over to the convention center for my badge. A few people mingled outside the main hall. Carpenters and electricians raced to get displays and rooms ready for this morning. But other than that it was quiet enough to mosey through the halls, figure out where everything was, and to peruse the display of books at the unattended bookstalls.
I met Chad Feehan, the young director of a movie called Wake, making its world premiere at SxSW. He was busy stapling small posters to poles around the convention center. We talked for a few minutes about making movies and what it’s like when all you have in your advertising arsenal is a box of posters and a staple gun rather than Hollywood’s promotion machine. I wished him well. And we exchanged Twitter handles.
Yes, there are plenty of reasons to come to SxSW. Panels on everything and anything from crowdsourcing, to the iPad, mobile technology and social media promise new ideas. Keynotes from Clay Shirky, Jaron Lanier, Gary Vaynerchuk and Ev Williams will surely inspire and inform.
But the real reason to come to SxSW is for the human connection. Face to face conversations with people you meet for the first time as well as those you’ve previously met, but only online.
So much of our interaction these days is via Twitter. We give a few seconds of thought to a point we want to make or a reaction we’re compelled to offer. We may go so far as to write a thoughtful comment on a blog post we’ve actually read or respond to the comments others leave us. But here we can find all those people and actually connect.
My personal encounters continued. I had one-on-one conversations, over beer, with Steve Hall of Adrants and Faris Yakob of TBD. My digital exchanges with Steve typically consist of sending him a link I hope he’ll include in his blog, or answering a quick question he has about a campaign. Last night we actually talked about life, and change, and social media and his moving to Rochester. Being Dads we even asked about the kids.
In Faris’s case, it was our first real-life introduction. I’ve known of him for two years, been reading some of his stuff for almost one year, and interacting with him on Twitter and blog comments for the last six months. We know lots of people in common. We even spoke recently at the same event series on different dates. But until last night we’d never met.
Thanks to Foursquare (another post for later today or tomorrow), we discovered we were within a block of one another and got together at a bar near the Convention Center. We discussed everything from the new agency model, to transforming creative companies, the impact of social media, how to give a presentation without using any Keynote slides, and the financial model that determines whether a book gets published. I shared a few lessons from Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto as we talked about how CMOs could ever learn to choreograph the many services and platforms needed to market today. He turned me onto Packrati.us as we both shared our challenges with how to filter and organize plethora content that comes into our lives. It was great, adding dimension and depth to all the 140-character conversations we’d had in the past.
My next few days will be pretty full; there are lots of other real people to connect with. If you’re one of them, and I don’t find you, I hope you’ll find me. Thanks for reading.
Image by: photocapy
I know, the last thing advertising needs is another award. And yes, it’s a little pompous to think this blog is entitled to award one. But the above visual seems like too much fun to waste. So on the eve of SXSW, Creativity_Unbound announces its call for entries for the first quarterly “Future of Advertising Award.” The idea is that every three months (advertising changes way too fast to wait for an entire year to pass) this blog and its readers (that’s you) will bestow the honor (?) on someone whose efforts epitomize positive change, innovation, new ideas that inspire us, or even miserable failures that teach us valuable lessons about how to move forward in the digitally-driven, consumer-controlled, social media world.
Winners could come from the ranks of doers, thinkers, creators, technologists or teachers. The one thing they’ll have in common – the picture offers a hint – is that they are leading us forward or inspiring us to lead ourselves forward. People who represent what comes next in the evolution of an industry that goes all the way back to J. W. Thompson in the 1800s.
The modern ad person probably begins with Don Draper, or Darren Stevens, take your pick. The species continues with Bill Bernbach,who gave us the creative team; Cliff Freeman, representing the height of TV commercials; and currently Bob Greenberg, among those who’ve led the industry’s transformation from analog to digital. But who comes next? That’s what we want to identify, encourage and celebrate. Emphasis on we.
So please leave your recommendations in the comment section below. The panel of judges (to be named soon) will consider them all and float some out ourselves, then let you know who prevails. At which time you can agree, debate or call us clueless.
The winner, of course, will receive a beautiful print with their face on the body standing tall at the front of the line. Suitable for framing, of course.
Who do you think should win? Someone already famous: Ben Malbon, Faris Yakob, Mike Lebowitz, Ross Kimbarovsky? Someone almost famous: Adrian Ho, Jordan Kretchmer? Or better yet, someone we’ve never heard from, but will?
As ReadWriteWeb reminded us this morning, SXSW will be overwhelming. Just scrolling through the schedule, even after you filter and refine, leaves you wondering how to clone yourself or otherwise choose among all the options happening at the exact same time. Granted some of the best learning, interaction and conversation takes place outside the numbered rooms of the convention center and the lettered rooms of the Hilton, but there’s an awful lot of stuff worth putting on your schedule and adhering to. Here are a few of the sessions that I have planned.
The Era of Crowdsourcing: Guiding Principles
Digg’s Jeffrey Kalmikoff and Behance’s Scott Belsky are leading this one. They may not be Jeff Howe, but I’m assuming there will be the creative perspective – much debated – and ideas and suggestions for how to make crowdsourcing work for both the content seeker and the participant. Not sure who the other panelists are, as they’re not listed on sxsw.com, but it’s too important a topic to pass up.
iPad: New Opportunities for Content Creators
There’s no shortage of speculation. Book publishers, the print media, production companies and ad agencies are already working on how to take advantage of the iPad. A panel that brings people together from publishing, video games and the interactive space could be inspiring. Wish Big Spaceship’s Michael Lebowitz were on this panel, but I’m assuming the collective group will offer at least some new insights.
Improving Social Media With Live Streaming Video
No doubt live video will play a huge role in the next phase of brands using social media to connect and engage; whether it’s to broadcast news, conduct a weekly show, inform a sales force, rally a community, or simply bypass traditional media to get the word out. There is still a sense of “now” when we’re watching something and know that others are experiencing it at the same time that streaming video puts in the hands of a content creator. Ustream’s Brad Hunstable leads this one and promises to share some real results from users.
Monkeys with Internet Access: Sharing, Human Nature, and Digital Data
Clay Shirky has yet to announce his actual topic, but if you’ve read his book or his blog, you know he’s worth an hour of your time. If you don’t know who he is, click on his name for a bio. And if you can’t get there, do yourself a favor and read any of his posts or books. Even when they’re a few years old, you’ll learn something.
Story.Next — Narrating the Crowd
Anyone who’s seen one of my presentations or heard my talk knows that my view of social media and advertising is all about inspiring others to tell stories for us. Or as Faris Yakob says, “”Rather than having ideas that are content, have ideas that create content.” (More coming on that topic in a future post.) Clearly there’s a great opportunity to take what StoryCorps is all about and embrace the approach in the social space. Everyone wants to share his or her story. Even those that are about the brands we work on.
I have dozens of other events on my schedule, a long list of old and new friends to see, and some smaller gatherings planned. No shortage of inspiration, information and excitement to be had. What are your plans? And if you see anything missing from my schedule, feel free to recommend. Hope to see you there.
In an industry that loves buzzwords and handles, this is the new one for 2010: content without walls. It’s a fancy (or succinct) way of saying that your brand needs to live wherever and whenever a consumer wants or needs access to information or entertainment.
After all, our media habits have become increasingly complex. We get our fix of content from books, ads, podcasts, magazines and movies. And we access it from smart phones, tablets, TV sets, and digital billboards. Not to mention search, shared links and social media.
So what does this mean for content creators, advertisers, brands? Does this suggest that we simply make sure every TV spot also gets posted to YouTube and a brand’s Facebook page? Is it all about the many different places we can put a piece of content so that it lives on every imaginable platform, ubiquitous and impossible to avoid? Is it merely about portability from one device to another?
“Hey, we can put our spot on cable, on smart phones, embed it in a tablet ad, or play it in back of a taxi cab. While we’re at it, why not project it onto the sides of urban buildings, too. Let’s leverage that production budget.”
That may work in some cases. I watch at least as much TV on my iPhone as I do on my Samsung flat screen. And I probably sit through far more ads on YouTube than on television. (That way I get to pick only the good ones.) But the expression “content without walls,” could, in some cases, make us lazy if all we do is place the same idea in lots of different places.
I much prefer the idea of “engineering your presence,” a term I first heard from Michael Calienes. It suggests you need to be everywhere, but not always with the same content. Chances are pretty good that customers don’t want the same thing on a tablet as they want on TV. The information that appears on your packaging is unlikely to double as an iPhone app. And while an honest to goodness testimonial — inspired by an effective conversation strategy — might work from a blogger you actually trust, or a friend on Twitter, it typically makes for some pretty boring advertising.
Instead of starting with the content we have, we should consider what our customers want. We should write strategies and creative briefs that offer insights about a customer’s relationship to media, content and community, not just to the brand, product or category. Does she want to be entertained or informed? Is she interested in listening or sharing or co-creating? Is she influenced more by friends or trusted bloggers? Are we creating a series of messages we hope will get noticed? Or are we producing applications we know will get used?
Sticking a TV spot on YouTube no matter how many views it gets may be content without walls. But it probably won’t break through all the barriers standing between you and a loyal customer.
This post inspired by a great conversation with my brilliant colleague John Moore.
Photo by: Alex Webb