Friday, July 30, 2010

When Art and Technology Have a Baby

This afternoon I'm meeting with Lincoln Schatz (pronounced "shots"), an American portrait artist whose work has just been acquired by the Smithsonian. I first met Lincoln a few years ago at an event in his studio. I was mesmerized by the images that floated like ghosts across the walls. Part programmer and part videographer, Lincoln's customized computers deliver generative moving portraits of people the likes of George Clooney as commissioned by Esquire Magazine.

Not satisfied to just make art, Lincoln is also mastering the process of creating change. His Cure Violence project teaches Chicago area youth from blighted communities how to tell their stories using video art. Cisco is one of the project's sponsors. According to Lincoln, the project has been both gratifying and vexing. It's not easy changing a culture from destructive to creative in the face of grinding poverty.

I hope to learn about it.

I learn more from stories about disappointment than glory. Handling success doesn't really demand perspective or inner coaching. Creative people have vivid imaginations. It's part of their gift. And it can become their downfall when reality just never forms up the way it's been imagined.

I read recently that Buddhists believe expectation is the partner to disappointment. Willingness is the partner to happiness--being willing to accept what unfolds. Here's hoping Lincoln is willing unfold his secret to pulling off his wildly ambitious blend of art + technology + social action.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Why I'm Proud to Be From Chicago

Last Friday, I attended my first sketch comedy show at the Playground Theater. The show featured three acts (one of which was written and performed by two of my funniest friends, Alicia Eler and Daaimah Mubashshir) and lasted two hours. By the time it was over, I found myself wondering why I don't see comedy shows every weekend. Don't get me wrong--I try to take advantage of Chicago on a regular basis. I go to museums, movies, plays and the like pretty regularly. After all, we live in a pretty big and wonderful city. But nothing brushes a bad week off your back like spending two hours laughing. So I was thrilled to find out that the Playground has shows every single Friday night. You can bet I'll be back.

Here's another cool thing I found out about them: the Playground is the first and only not-for-profit co-op theater dedicated to improv comedy in the entire country. That fact alone makes me swell with Chicago pride. And it's entirely run by volunteers, many of whom are also actors. I love the idea that the guy setting up chairs before a show might be the life of that very show three hours later.

Then there are Fundraising Fridays, during which the theater assists organizations or individuals with setting up shows to raise money for various causes. Laughs and philanthropy--what more could a culture scout ask for? I don't know that I had a favorite theater before now, but after reading up on the Playground, I think they may have taken the prize.

See here for more info.

--Mo Hickey

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

When Waking up is Hard to Do: 3 Tips for Launching Your Dream Project

Dreamers can always conjure brilliant visions for projects that’ll fix things, change things, rock the status quo. But inevitably, dreamers must become doers. And, they must inspire other doers to take action. There’s the rub.

To manifest an important, culture-changing idea it’s essential to get people to go beyond the fascination stage and actually do something. This can be harder than you think.

Someone running for office can enjoy very high poll ratings before election day. But getting people to leave their jobs or homes and vote is tricky. You have to wake people up to the fact that lack of action means they’ll get left behind.

Where do you begin?

Here’s a nice little video featuring Kerri Martin, former Guardian of Brand Soul at Mini Cooper. Her 3 bits of advice will help you transform the idea floating in your head into a living, breathing reality.

Kerri Martin from eatbigfish on Vimeo.

Thanks to our colleagues at Eat Big Fish.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Who Gets to Decide What the Future Looks Like?

I’m doing my best to get through my summer reading list. I overloaded myself with non-fiction. Loved Switch, Chip and Dan Heath’s new book. Found Clay Shirky’s new title, Cognitive Surplus to be a twirl on the dance floor of what’s possible for digital culture. I started to sound like an insufferable smarty-pants. I needed some fiction.

So I just cracked the Kindle spine of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and am enthralled. It’s a novel aimed at young adults that predicts a future world of vast underemployment. Only a narrow elite prosper. The reality TV blockbuster is a game where teenagers starve themselves to the death.

It’s one of a few YA novels I’ve read recently, including Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, where the logical assumption is that the future is grim, immoral morass ruled by autocrats. Adult writers of books for young people don’t seem to hold out much hope for the future. It makes me wonder. How much do dystopian expressions in books or movies, shape young people’s sense of efficacy? Are we inspiring them to give up hope?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

How To Make Your Campaign Go Viral: What We've Learned From The Old Spice Guy

Hooray to Old Spice for creating a wildly successful social media campaign. For the last few weeks, they've been creating and posting YouTube videos in which "The Old Spice Guy"--a towel-clad, bare-chested fellow--responds to questions he's been asked by fans via Twitter. In less than a week it chalked up 34 million views, making it the fastest-growing video campaign ever. 

How did they do it? Well, prolifically--that's for sure. Each video was produced in an average of seven minutes, meaning that most of them were done in one take. 

Another thing worth mentioning is the power of being spoken to directly. Every video is a direct response to a real question put forth by a real person. And to have your question chosen over thousands of others to be answered publicly, on the world-wide web, no less? There's definitely something to be said for that kind of attention. That, combined with Old Spice's constant output of ads, truly put this campaign on the map. 

Don't believe the hype? See for yourself.

--Mo Hickey

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

One Simple Truth About the Seduction of Judgment

Christopher Owens, lead singer of the band Girls, wore pajama bottoms during a show he did in San Francisco. A critic saw it as evidence that Owens is a self-indulgent hipster. "Just another spoiled, entitled, trust-fund kid," he said, "whose excessively privileged life has given him the delusion that he's uninhibited." With a little research, he would have uncovered the truth: Owens was raised in an abusive religious cult by a single mother who worked as a prostitute to put food on the table. This reminds me of the importance of keeping an open mind.

Digital culture has made us all critics on some level. And it’s a dangerous seduction. I share this story in hopes it will inspire you to avoid making any assumptions about anyone. As we begin the work of rebuilding our economy and society for a new era, it's crucial that we bring a beginner's mind to our evaluations of other human beings. Otherwise, we’ll lack the compassion that is at the beating heart of good judgment.

I’ve embarked on a major new piece of research. Can you tell?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Three Simple Truths for Making Something Happen --The Caroline Collective

I first encountered Matthew Wettergreen at SXSW in 2009. He was just getting his co-working space, Caroline Collective, up and running in Houston. With soft-spoken sincerity and Daniel Day Lewis good looks, Wettergreen's easy-going nature disguises a fierce drive to make things happen.

I would later interview him as part of a piece of research I did assessing the size and scope of Houston's creative economy commissioned by the University of Houston and the Houston Arts Alliance. By then, Wettergreen has picked up other gigs to supplement his portfolio, and no doubt his income. In interviews with movers and shakers, his name kept cropping up. Why all the buzz? My hunch is that Wettergreen had unlocked the mysteries of what it take to create something from nothing, AND make it stick. Lots of people do the former. Fewer people achieve the latter.

Here's my take on the Wettergreen Way of leadership:
1. Care about other people's ideas and work almost as much as your own. Every time I check in on Facebook, he's touting someone else's success. No, no...not in a smarmy way. Wettergreen is simply very excited about new ideas and the people who generate them. Hence, it's what he talks about. Building a sense of community happens one relationship at a time. Before you know it, you look up and a ton of people are in your network.
2. Every great cause grows up. For Caroline Collective to reach its first birthday, it had to experiment, draw attention, make friends, and lure foot traffic into its collective work space. So, it threw parties. Live bands, booze, be-up-late funsters. But when the tenant entrepreneurs booted up businesses in the space, Wettergreen was wise enough to lower the volume. It was time to grow up.
3. Keep everlasting at it. There is just no substitute for tenacity, which is the soul mate to hard work. Each time I encountered Wettergreen, it was clear he was working his ass off. People looking to start something can underestimate the grinding effort involved.

Recently, Caroline Collective had a birthday party. I was sorry to have missed it. So let me say it now: happy birthday to an experiment in Houston that brings artists, scientists, social entrepreneurs and renaissance geeks who defy category, all under one roof to cook up the next wave of opportunity.

Matthew Wettergreen, and his cohorts such as new media maven Grace Rodriguez are poster children for the RenGen.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Five Steps To Designing Killer Research Reports

Everyone is a researcher. The changed economic climate dictates it. Unless you're living in a cave, or asleep at the wheel--no matter what your role is in your organization, you are probably scanning your environment, gathering and comparing observations. 

I'm urging clients to create ways for their people to share insights and observations that lead to productive changes. Because I work with people whose work often changes the culture, being able to package and pitch a new idea is critical to their success. To be credible, they need data.

Audiences crave meaning. I'm a believer in packaging information to make it more meaningful, not as a demonstration of how smart the author is.

Every picture tells a story. Every abstract data point deserves a concrete diagram. This handy manual from AIGA on designing ethnographic research is a recent find worth sharing. It's readable, actionable and easy on the eyes.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hi-Tech Art: Three Artists Mine Digital Culture For Inspiration

What do Facebook, Missed Connections and text messages have in common? They all serve as subject matter for three very different artists who all draw inspiration from digital culture.

First up is Matt Held, a painter from Brooklyn. He likes to recreate famous paintings using strangers' Facebook photos, thus throwing together people who'll never meet each other from all over the world. (His interpretation of "Feast of Bacchus" has a tattooed man in a Ramones shirts clinking glasses with a man wearing a business-casual button-down shirt and jeans.) Very interesting, I think. But his current project--which he's been working on since December of 2008--is beyond ambitious. Curious? Check out the Facebook group "I'll have my Facebook portrait painted by Matt Held"--you'll be glad you did.

Also from Brooklyn is Sophie Blackall, a children's book illustrator who's fascinated by the Missed Connections section on Craigslist. The main source of intrigue for her is the incredibly short lifespan of the posts, which are usually deleted within a week. So she collects the ones she likes and turns them into vintage-inspired watercolor paintings. See her blog on the project here.

On the other side of the world, Tracey Moberly, an artist from London, sees her text inbox as her muse. Her art explores texts as artifacts of our time (she's saved every one she's ever received since 1999). The project--called "text me up!"--was exhibited in London and later turned into a book.

--Mo Hickey

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Recession’s Lasting Impact on Sponsorship

There is more evidence that sponsors are still pulling back. Sports deals are especially soft. Often the “must have” in every sponsor’s portfolio, Forbes Magazine reports that opted out of its relationship with the NFL. Citi dropped the presenting sponsorship of The Rose Bowl. UBS relinquished its role as main sponsor of The Players Championship.

While all of advertising has suffered, there are three perceptions that stand in the way of a full recovery for sponsorship.

1. Sponsorship is expensive. Many sponsors immediately equate “sponsorship” with big-ticket professional sports with heavy television packages. Plus, there is the cost to help execute the deals which requires staff time and effort to make them true sales opportunities for sponsors.

2. Sponsorship is inefficient. The fact that sponsorship is associated with human phenomenon delivered through live events piles on the logistics.

3. Sponsorship is tough to measure. Okay, I have to put my bias up front. ROI geeks tend to be the ones with clean desks and short to-do lists. Still, there has been a failure among people in the discipline to fully codify the art and science of sponsorship deals with metrics associated with direct sales interactions, intent to buy and willingness to consider/re-consider a brand as the result of a sponsorship.

No matter what, sponsorship needs redefining, if not a full-scale revolution. But the truth is, every brand wants what a quality sponsorship deal delivers. That is, intriguing, inspiring moments that consumers want to be a part of. The experiences that create a sense of collective momentum. That we can join together and be a community, and the brand is there to add to the fun or make the experience even possible in the first place. The result is that consumers have a sense of longer, deeper connections with the brands they encounter. Sponsorship won’t go away. It will get re-invented as part of a hi-tech/hi-touch mashup that is already emerging.

So while Forbes considers that sports sponsorship will become more conservative post-recession, I expect that the hipper deals ranging from live music, to festivals, to collective action to change the world, will become more ambitious…oh, and yes…more measurable. Check out Pepsi Refresh, Starbucks and Levi Strauss to see if you agree.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Art of World Cup Soccer

If you watched World Cup Finals you were aware of the rough play on the part of the Neds. What struck me was the announcer explaining the lack of artistry among the Dutch players. After all, he argued, they come from the land of Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh. What? How often do we hear art analogies in sportscasting?

But wait, there’s more. Over the weekend I was at the gym, where the televisions only get good reception on ESPN, so they keep them there. I’m watching the Reno Rodeo and the sponsor, Wrangler jeans, has an ad touting the dual life of a cowboy. By day a hard working ranch hand, by night a guitar man, a duality and brand identity supported by Wrangler's country music label. Perhaps this was the right compromise after the brand’s foray into high-concept, ultra-sexual ads that rocked Cannes in 2009. Who knows.

Okay, this is my new thing. Just as Dan Pink fervently looks for emotionally intelligent signage, my new truffle sniff is for “artful Dodgers”—in other words, sports/arts mashups.

The culture scouts have been alerted.

How about you? Have you seen any lately?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sponsor the World You Want to See—Getting Creative With Pot

Next week, I give a talk at the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. I’m honored. Because I tailor keynotes to the audience, I took time out to interview some of the movers and shakers in the world of alternative newspapers.

Here’s what I learned: Forget “print is dead.” Suspend your disbelief that we're trapped in an economic death spiral. The truth is that alternative news media is surviving—in some cases thriving. Three cultural trends keep indie newspapers relevant:

1. hyper local—"Dude, who’s the backyard farmer down the block?"
2. free—Before Chris Anderson deemed it cool
3. artful—a cornucopia of hip film, art, food, music news

Let’s take artful. Recognizing that the local arts scene needed a little fertilizer, Westword newsweekly in Denver created the MasterMind Awards. Similar to the MacArthur genius grants but on a smaller scale, MasterMinds rewards five cultural visionaries who are working to change the cultural landscape of Denver by giving them cold, hard cash. The source of the money? Pot. Yes, you heard me.

Denver has a booming medicinal pot business and the best place to advertise is in Westword. Patricia Calhoun created the MasterMinds program when she found herself flush with advertising money from marijuana boutiques, but scant on ways to fertilize the creative landscape in Denver.

Five years into its existence and the program has yielded untold benefits for Calhoun, the paper, and Denver. Calhoun says it energizes her. She uses the Masterminds for quarterly jam sessions with her writiers. Like a pop-up think tank, the group riffs on social issues, community development, the economy, new shows worth seeing, and rare wonders unique to Denver’s cultural scene. It’s become a force for inspiration at the WestWord. When I asked Patricia Calhoun what brave experiments in urban culture were going on in Denver, she didn’t hesitate. “You know what, I’ll ask the MasterMinds.”

Patricia Calhoun is sponsoring the world she wants to see. It’s a more innovative world. The approach is simple and effective: she hired artists.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Greenpeace Bullies the Arts to Get at BP

Enough already with the anti-BP protests regarding its arts sponsorship. Last week, protestors staged a funeral march to the Tate gallery, a beneficiary of BP grants, and spilled an oil-like substance on the museum’s exterior. The subsequent video has circulated like greased lightning around the Web.

Why all the interest in arts sponsorships? Because it’s an easy mark, and because some folks in Britain actually bothered to get off their asses and protest creatively. Most of us sit paralyzed in horror as we watch the Gulf waters turn a toxic brown color.

Truthfully, if BP should be accused of anything in association with its sponsorship of arts institutions, it's that it's too little money. Come on! Des Violaris, BP’s U.K. director for arts and culture, admits spending on arts was little more than 1 million pounds ($1.5 million) a year. Spent across four or five major institutions, it’s a drop in the bucket.

Consider that companies, BP included, pour millions into sponsoring auto racing, the ultimate in fossil fuel excess. Then there’s BP’s expensive relationship with FIFA. Costly as these deals are, they return very little to the world in terms of education or enlightenment compared to the arts.

So why is Greenpeace bullying the Tate for taking BP funding? Because it can. It’s an easier target than facing down the dudes over at FIFA or auto racing. And frankly, it’s shameful.

BP’s sponsorship of the arts has been a brand-building exercise for the petroleum giant for decades. Greenpeace would have us believe it’s a hasty attempt to wash clean the company’s besmirched reputation.

To be sure, BP deserves all the rancor the world can muster for this disaster. But making arts and culture the whipping boy is a little like throwing Martha Stewart in jail for acting on a stock tip, while Bernie Madoff went on to fleece people out of millions.

More disheartening is my suspicion that Greenpeace sees an opportunity to build its own non-profit brand in the fracas. And it doesn’t seem to mind bludgeoning a group of socially significant organizations to make its point. Especially not when the cameras are rolling and people need a scapegoat. Here’s hoping the arts don’t take it lying down. Is it time for a smack down?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Gone Fishin'... Seriously

I love cooking and eating fresh fish. I just never did much fishing. Oh, I used to take my kids fishing in Michigan. Buy them fresh bait, pack sandwiches and load up the skiff for an afternoon of reeling in blue gills.  But truthfully, I was sunbathing more than fishing.

I recently accepted an invitation to go fishing. Serious fishing. I have no idea what I'm doing.

After tormenting myself with a running trailer of anxieties (I fall out of the boat, I hook someone in the face, I cut my hand gutting a fish) I realize I've fallen into a trap. I have a habit of worrying about the unknown rather than embracing it. No matter how much experience I have in living what is a happy, fulfilling life, I'm still susceptible to paranoid fantasies about failure--however unfounded.

The good news is that I also catch myself at this game. When I attempt to play the "now fear this" tape, I willfully make it a preview for a comedy--more teasing and mischievous. That way, I can laugh at myself. Then it's easier to say "yes" to the new.

Isn't this also true in business? Our fears can make innovation so emotionally painful. When forced to change a process or introduce a new offering, I wonder if it's better to see it as a  creative fishing trip. The economy has really freaked people out--for good reason. But the blind fear keeps us clinging to things that really don't work any longer. In a workshop I gave recently, a gentleman said, "I realize the direct mail campaign isn't working, but I won't get fired for doing it." Fear keeps us from trying things that could work better.

For my part, I plan to focus on creating skills that put my imagination to better use. I want a new relationship with my fears. So that even if I feel them gnawing holes in my ambition, I don't necessarily believe in the visions they try to scare me with. 

The summer solstice is just behind us. We're halfway through 2010. What are your goals for the next half of the year? Any fishing trips planned?

Original art by Magic Marking

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Facebook Privacy, Part Three

A while back I blogged about Facebook's newly-tweaked privacy settings. Now, however, I finally have one of my own. (A little slow on the uptake, I know--I'm a dinosaur.) It's been interesting to navigate Facebook in the midst of all these changes, because I don't know what it was like before. But it's good to have a reference point as is. Now when I talk about things like privacy settings, it's from a standpoint of personal experience--the first thing I did when I made my account was make sure my information was private. You know those now-optional "instant personalization" settings? Turned 'em off!

Speaking of changes, Facebook's made another one. It's a new feature that requires outside sites and applications to tell users what aspects of their profiles have to be shared in order for the apps to work. Such applications already had to ask permission to access anything private. Now, though, they have to actually specify what information they'll be using--i.e., photos, email addresses, friends' birthdays, and so on. The downside? Users still can't pick and choose what pieces they want to grant access to--you either allow total access or you don't. Again, not a huge change, but hopefully a sign that bigger ones are yet to come. Baby steps.

--Mo Hickey