Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Minneapolis Home of Big Radio and Big Cherry

I set foot in Minnesota Public Radio for the first time last week. It is the epicenter of high-quality public radio production. I was awed and felt a little tiny sitting there in the lobby. Not that the place wasn't friendly, it was. Not that the architecture wasn't welcoming, it was. But as I sat there waiting to be interviewed by Tom Crann from All Things Considered, I was very aware that I was just one person, waiting my turn to speak my truth. I was not a member of a multi-million audience. I was the singular me, there in the cradle of NPR, one voice. It is still a marvel at the power of public radio. As a side note, I also got an up close look at the Claes Oldenburg sculpture. Trust me on this, photos don't do it justice. Yowzer! Went to the new Guthrie Theatre. Eye-popping, as well. I guess Minneapolis caught me eye, ear, and voice.

Monday, October 29, 2007

RenGen brand: TUL pens

I'm old fashioned in that I love pen and paper. The thrill of wielding a well-designed writing implement really sends me. So, I took great delight in checking out TUL pens. The company's website is hilarious. Take the hand writing test. Learn "all about you" as the Mr. Professor guy analyzes your personality. TUL (pronounced tool) is a collaboration between Office Max and Gravity Tank, an innovation shop. Hat tip to culture scout, Brandy Agerbeck.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

More Evidence that Science and Art are Fusing

The Experimentation Marathon was held again last week at the Serpetine Gallery Pavillion located in the Kensington Gardens, England. The 24-hour art, technology and science mash up kicked off with a session looking into the brain's interpretation of reality, artificial intelligence and out-of-body experiences. Angela Sirigu presented the famous Phantom Limb experiment, in which amputees continue to experience the presence of a lost body part; and Prof Olaf Blanke showed how a confused mind can generate an out of body feeling. A Three Way Kissing Booth offered "a public experiment on male female desire." Tim Echells of Forced Entertainment staged a 24-hour, online writing event, passing a cumulative piece of writing from time zone to time zone. The latter continues online in an open-source spirit of collaboration. Visit the Serpentine to add your voice.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Big Art the New Fashion

Trend spark: extremely theatrical fashion. Last week, the Goodman Theatre held its costume sale. Great turn out. Many theatre companies sell their costumes these days, usually in time for the Halloween season. But more and more, the sales are being sprinkled throughout the year as people seek the gargantuan fashions for parties, weddings and backdrops for YouTube videos. Flinty.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Dark Secrets of a Best Seller

The more I learn about publishing, the more entrenched it seems. This week, maverick marketer Seth Godin takes on the New York Times bestseller mythology. Last month, author of Freakonomics, Steven Leavitt revealed the dubious math behind Amazon rankings.
My fantasy system would be led by librarians who order books,observe patron behavior all day long and explain options to readers--but they have no vested interest in sales. What power do librarians have? Well, there are more libraries in America than McDonald's stores. These knowledgable, non-partisan, neutral fonts of information are an untapped national resource for people who love books. It's time, in fact overdue, for an American Library "Most Requested" list.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Radiohead Experiment Wins Hearts and Minds

Two weeks into the experiment, the band Radiohead is getting traction with its RenGen pricing stunt. First, the band cracked through the media clutter, earning instant notoriety for its pay-what-you-want pricing model for its latest release. They’ve broken new ground--making passion for their music the new currency. The band is also building a community of fans who feel empowered when they vote with their dollars for the music. Their story has lessons for all of us about how to build a brand in the RenGen:
1. Brands must be ideas. This goes way beyond clever sloganeering. The product itself must be an idea, or about ideas. How something is packaged, priced, promoted, must help the consumer achieve more than a simple transaction. In a world awash in content, the key is connecting to a larger idea. Radiohead’s voluntary pricing model makes it all about personal expression not commerce. And gets inside the consumer’s head, asking a person to weigh, wonder, and assess how much meaning the music has. Very RenGen.
2. Good brands percolate. For over 50 years marketing has been about push and pull. Push messages out, pull audiences toward you. The new opportunity lies in percolating content with equal parts of social relevance and self-expression to create a rich brew consumers line up for.
3. Transcending what was. We live in the interlude period before the rise of the renaissance. Poised at the dawn of a new age, people feel confused, unanchored. As they move into the unknown. The building blocks of the society may be up for creative redesign—things like money, for instance. Ours is a sophisticated consumer culture, likely the most sophisticated in the world. Radiohead has helped people rethink commerce. They’ve made the value proposition a co-creative exercise.

The experiment with intellectual property will continue. It’s fascinating to be a witness to these shifts as they signal deeper trends.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

RenGen Mentions in New York Times and Herald Tribune

Both papers covered the RenGen shift in business travel and client entertainment. More and more business travelers are including cultural experiences into their business travel. From theatre tickets to museum walk-throughs, knowledge workers are using travel to expand their horizons. Squeezing in 18 holes of golf has gone the way of the three-martini lunch for time starved executives who need to use travel to prowl for inspiration, trends, aha! moments they get from cultural encounters. Click here for the story

Monday, October 15, 2007

Big Day in a RenGen City

Today is a big day in Chicago. WBEZ, the NPR affiliate in Chicago featured the RenGen on its 848 morning magazine show. Correspondent Gabriel Spitzer interviewed me and invited listeners to the launch event for RenGen tonight at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, hosted by the Chicago Loop Alliance.

I resisted naming Chicago a RenGen City. First of all--I live here! I can hardly be objective about it. But my research team insisted. It met all the criteria: good intellectual/creative infrastructure, green initiatives, density, circulatory system to move people and ideas around and the sense of "civitas" a Latin term for a well-run city where residents are friendly and happy. My researchers (not from Chicago) thought the Windy City had great mojo. But the main thing--the number one criterion the City has in spades is catalytic personalities. People who take risks, find supporters, build coalitions and make extraordinary things happen. A stroll through Millenium Park says it all.
To honor the launch, Brandy Agerbeck, one of Chicago's young RenGenners and catalytic personalities (she is a don of the Chicago Craft Mafia) has graphically mapped the main themes of RenGen theory. I am honored. She did the same for Al Gore and Thomas Friedman. They liked their's, too.
Thanks, Brandy!

Friday, October 12, 2007

How Much is George Clooney's Smile Worth?

As George Clooney's new film is widely released this week, I still marvel at how much Hollywood questions his pull. The fear is this: handsome, yes, but too edgy, maybe. What? I cannot picture a more mainstream definition of handsome. I cannot imagine an actor with more crossover appeal. He's a man's man, ladies' man, Latino/as, African-Americans--everybody digs Clooney. The problem is that his movies have a message--usually deep and faintly disconcerting. Moguls worry the average Joe won't get it, worse yet, won't like having to think. I am watching the box office returns with great interest to see if the numbers tell the RenGen story. Namely, that the average Joe is not below average, but instead a thinking, expressive human being. Besides, look at Clooney's smile. What's not to get?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Evolution Will Not Be Televised

I was in New York this week to tape a segment for ABC World News on the topic of the RenGen's reaction to the flurry of product recalls. In haste, I schlepped from Chicago, was at the studio by 4AM, on the air for 2 minutes, done. Like most moments in life, the real lesson is in reconciling one's expectations with reality.

It was not my first time on television, but it was my first time doing national news. The difference was the prep room--hair and make-up. Since I am a dedicated culture scout, I never overlook the opportunity to grill someone who encounters lots of personalities. This was no exception. I asked the make up artist and the hairdresser to describe the most challenging aspects of their work. They agreed immediately: working with people who are afraid to go on television but can't admit it to themselves, so they seethe anxiety. I talked about the Emotional Labor research I have been privy to and they jumped in to explain that it is not their skill with faces or hair that keeps them employed. (Note, they were very good. They made me look fresh as a daisy despite the all nighter I pulled.) It's their ability to absorb the emotional turbulence so that others can shine. This whole notion of emotional labor has me PINGING (Potential Inspiration for New Ground). It makes me wonder how many people see their true value in their emotional labor. And how many consumers of services are even aware that that's what they're really buying? Is the idea of Emotional Labor our next evolution as a knowledge/service economy? Comments welcomed.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Why Kids Hate Math

Meet Emmet Penney. He is a student at Bennington College, and my son. He is taking a class with a rising young math star (if mathematicians have a star system) Jason Zimba. They are researching alternative ways math can be taught and hope to discover why so many kids struggle with math in America. It's a bold undertaking. I have asked Emmet to blog about it. He agreed and his first submission follows:

In my math class at Bennington we’re looking to find out why people hate math and what can be done about it. The class is taught by maverick mathematician Jason Zimba. The goal of the class right now is to collect data about the education system and math. Part of the data collection process involves guest speakers to talk with our class. We prepare questions for them to read on our wikipage (link posted below) before they come in and begin a dialogue. Thus far, all guests have been from the Bennington community. 1) Ryan Moran, our first guest and a senior at Bennington, brought up an interesting point that learning computer languages, or “logic languages” is much like learning verbal languages; the more languages you know, the easier it is to absorb more. Ryan’s ideas on why people hate math was broken into two parts: 1) The key events are early in one’s education; 2) It's due to the teaching methods, which make people computers or in any case don't engage people in rich thoughts - organic thoughts - thoughts that help people make sense of their life and world - not necessarily concrete or practical thoughts.

Ken Himmelman, the Dean of Admissions at Bennington, came into talk to our class and shared ideas with us on why kids don’t respond well to math: 1) Math education is like a “Math Frat,” with an odd type of hazing, “You have to do it because I had to do it!”; 2) This “hazing” comes in the form of rote memorization of key concepts, similar to how foreign languages are taught. I found the parallels between these points and Ryan’s points very interesting. Our next visitor will be Joe Holt, a computing teacher at Bennington whose popular Code Critique class has an unusual structure. We’ll be asking him about his experience with math education among other things. I'll keep you posted on our progress.

Links: Our class’s wikipage
Joe’s wikipage
Ryan's graffiti project

Monday, October 8, 2007

Arts Sponsorship to Make Tickets Affordable is a Hit

I appreciated Charles Isherwood's article in this Sunday's New York Times about the Time-Warner sponsorship of the Signature Theatre Company's discount ticket initiative. Back in June, the New York-based media company renewed its deal with Signature for another four years years, allowing the theatre to maintain a relatively low price of $15 a ticket during the period for works by top playwrights such as August Wilson and John Guare. Actor Edward Norton approached Time Warner three years ago to pitch the concept. Norton, a Signature board member, has acted in its productions.

This is an exciting experiment with a sponsorship model that is attracting younger, more diverse audiences. It's also an idea whose time has come. Face it, arts sponsorships will never resemble sports deals, nor should they. The marketing goals might be the same in an arts deal: visibility, hospitality, and relevance for your brand with the right audience. But the RenGen are driving demand--they are an arts-hungry audience. They want more and simply can't afford it. So, by underwriting reduced tickets Time-Warner cashes in on this aspiration and delivers a lot of emotional value. Those wanting harder ROI--let's look at what else the project delivers for Time-Warner. First, the program has earned a lot of good press in top media. Secondly, they get access to remarkable theater experiences for clients and employees with some very high profile talent. Finally, they stand out. Never has it been more important in the wash of marketing and and advertising to stand up and stand out.

I take issue with one point Mr. Isherwood makes. He thinks it is unlikely that similarly sweeping price-reducing ticket sponsorship will take hold, absent a frenzy of corporate largesse, "which is to say, absent hell freezing over." Not so fast, I say. I have been touring the country talking about the RenGen, and I have been pleasantly surprised by the interest among executives looking to ride the wave of this phenomena. It won't happen overnight, but I predict, the paltry 5% sponsorship of the arts that IEG reports every year (not sure how they derive their numbers, a little smokey) will see an increase. There is simply too much evidence piling up that cultural consumers are where the action is.

Friday, October 5, 2007

One to Watch: Danah Boyd

I've been wanting to blog about this for awhile. I encounter incredible people through my work in the emerging sector where education, arts, entertainment and technology converge. These are some of the most inspiring minds of our times. I am hereby inaugerating an occassional series with this blog on Ones to Watch. Let me start with Danah Boyd. She is an expert in online social networking. Danah is finishing up her PhD and recently decided not to enter academia as a paid professor. Instead, she is casting her fate to the wind. MacArthur awarded her a research grant, she's in demand as a speaker and expert on social networking. She's brilliant and publishes like crazy, so my bet is that she'll be snapped up. What is haunting, though, is that her experience of trying to fit in to the education system echoes other information I am uncovering about education. It seems the education sector has trouble absorbing fresh, non-traditional talent. People wonder why schools and universities can't innovate. Well, they are entrenched, that's why. No new blood, no new ideas, no innovation. See Danah run.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

RenGen at Retail: Wal-Mart Plays Green

Wal-Mart is not a RenGen shopping experience. If RenGenners shop at Wal-Mart, it’s in cognito. But there are two glimmers of hope for the mega-chain in light of last week’s announcement of the Wal-Mart Green Strategy. First, Wal-Mart has considerable self-interest in going green. Over the years it has grown a lucrative side business in recycling Wal-Mart waste. Cash is king when motivating a company like Wal-Mart to do the right thing. Wal-Mart CEO said it best, "But we discovered the truth: The real reason to do this is for the business itself."

Secondly, Wal-Mart has taken a critical step to work collaboratively. It's forming 14 "sustainable value networks" made up of employees, suppliers and environmentalists. The groups get together regularly to brainstorm about how to advance the Green Strategy. This is what RenGen companies do--they engage their constituents to help create solutions, especially in situations where the company is on a learning curve. It's a form of Open-Source thinking. Forget pandering or phony gestures for the sake of getting buy-in. For these collaborative networks to succeed, like the one Wal-Mart has created, there has to be an authentic purpose—a grander stake that makes a difference.

One day, I may have to eat my words about Wal-Mart being a dead end brand. Can I have that humble pie at low-low prices?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Susan G. Komen's Global Expansion

Cause-marketing powerhouse, Susan G. Komen for the Cure is launching an unprecedented global expansion of its franchise in 10 countries. Komen for the Cure will export its know-how with training modules that capture the methodology and best practices that led the organization to becoming the world's largest and most successful breast cancer advocacy group. The modules include: Community Assessment, Volunteer and Organization Development, Awareness & Education, Fundraising/Sponsorship and Advocacy. Amazing considering back in 1982, when the organization was launched, few people in sponsorship marketing thought companies would affiliate with a "taboo" topic like breast cancer. Today, 21 companies support the organization to the tune of no less than $1M each. Times change, thankfully.