Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Can trends be predicted, much less created?

I came across a provocative, realistic thought in Lois Kelly's "Bloghound" today, in a discussion of whether it's possible to jump-start a trend by trying to influence the influencers. She quotes a "Columbia University network theory scientist" named Duncan Watts who argues otherwise, saying, "the complex network effects on society mean that trends occur randomly."

In an article in Fast Company, he says, "If society is ready to embrace a trend, almost anyone can start one — and if it isn't then almost no one can." In other words, Nothing Is As Powerful As An Idea Whose Time Has Come. Find one of those and then you've got something to work with.

That concept and this post produced a range of pings for me: I've been quoting a related idea for a long time, said to be one of the Laws Of Hollywood: "All Hits Are Flukes." (Just anecdotally, I remember this was reported as seen on the office wall of Trip Hawkins, back when he headed Electronic Arts.)

Yes, you've got to do your due diligence, put out as much intelligent, engaging signal to the right audiences as you can. But then there's always that point where you can only See What Happens. Farmers can plant the best seed at the right time and apply all their Best Practices; but then, it's largely up to the weather.

Companies are understandably nervous about investing money in marketing -- because the more time and money you've spent on marketing that came up empty, the more antsy you get -- so marketers can feel understandably pressured into issuing guarantees. But aren't those almost invariably fiction? What a marketer can do is stay on top of what's going on out there as much as possible, and give a company the best chance to succeed in getting their message out to fruitful effect.

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Lois Kelly's angle on getting the message out is based on what she calls "conversational marketing." In the sample chapter of her book, "Beyond Buzz," she explains, "The big idea is simply this: marketing is about having conversations, engaging with people in interesting discussions, through new and traditional channels. Technology may be becoming the heart of marketing and communications, but conversations are the soul."

(I find it a parallel, complementary idea to the ongoing focus here on pursuing business by dealing with people face to face. I'll toss in here that while in-person contacts are still ideal, advances in videoconferencing are now making that medium the next best thing. Especially when it means you wouldn't have to undress at a trot in a cold airport.)

Photo of the Hollywood sign, chosen because it symbolizes
the empty facade that area is, posted to Flickr by Kiran Ambre.)

Related, here:
Interface or Face To Face?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Serious Fun Dept.: The Playpump

A fully-formed idea is a beauty to behold. Find the kind that works in full strength on a number of levels, simultaneously fulfilling a range of needs, and you've got an effort worthy of putting full energy into.

Such is the Playpump -- as Maura Welch explains (in the Boston Globe Business Filter, from a post in PSFK), "This genius invention delivers clean drinking water to African villages -- and it's powered by a merry-go-round."

PSFK writes, "While children are playing on a merry-go-round, up to 1,400 liters of clean water can be pumped into a tank that stands seven meters above the ground. The tank’s walls are used to place ad billboards while two sides are reserved for educational messages. The revenue from ad-sales is put into the maintenance of each pump."

Here's a device which supplies a vital necessity, and is powered by children doing what they're supposed to do, and do best: play. Talk about "Serious Fun"! As Welch writes, "Simple things are powerful."

National Geographic's "Wild Chronicles" feature on the PlayPump Water System:

"Clean water equals less disease. It's low-cost solution to a whole host of complicated, expensive problems."

Of course, now that the kids don't need to carry water from dirty streams every day, the adults are glad they can spend more time in school. From the children's point of view, this might seem like a mixed blessing. But hey, they get a merry-go-round!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The 5 C's for a Team, from Nate McMillan (and 1)

Yes, another one of those lists... (one of the many ways that enumerate how relentlessly numbers-oriented our society is. Seems like everywhere you look, lists are being published of the Five This and the Ten That -- excuse me, that's the Top Five and the Top Ten.)

Still, this concise list of "the Five C's," five qualities for players on a winning team to focus on, rang all the right bells for me. I noticed this particular story, though, because these conceptual-vitamin C's come from a basketball coach I'm familiar with, whose team is overachievingly hot. And that mostly matters because all through his 12 years as a point guard on the Seattle Sonics, Nate McMillan really played the game "the right way."

McMillan has now been coaching the regional rival Portland Trailblazers (22-13) for two years, and his motto was voiced in a Portland Tribune story last month about their upstart success.

"Coach Nate McMillan cited an adherence to the 'five C’s' – calmness, clarity, consistency, connectedness and communication – as an example of the team’s progress. 'We started communicating better, and the result was, we raised our level of play and had a nice comeback,' McMillan said."





Beautiful. Touches all the bases -- excuse me, that should be, "moves the ball around to find the open man."

It's interesting to note that the first three really begin with the effort of the individual. Once those basic qualities are put in action by each of the team members, that's the point from where connection can start to come into play.

To that list, I'd only suggest adding Caring.

How do I justify that? Folks, I only need point to the other conference and historic Boston, where Exbibit A now reigns: Mr. Kevin Garnett is unquestionably the driving force behind the Celtics' current 29-4 record, not only league-leading but putting them as a team in some pretty rarified historical company. And it doesn't look like anybody could care more than he does.

The guy is so passionately motivated, and equally on each end of the floor, that his teammates just can't help getting inspired and energized by it, and, to put a technical hoops term on it, just play their butts off out there.

Yes, there are a couple other All-Stars on there, Pierce and Allen, and [blah blah team talk], but it is Garnett's evident passion and drive that's the difference between a good team and the great one they're playing as right now.

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Putting up a few more shots:

Nate McMillan was always one of those quiet "hustle guys" for the Sonics, the kind that the casual fan might not notice, but who would always seem to be coming up with key defensive plays, rebounds, loose balls -- the effort plays -- getting the ball to the stars for dramatic scores, while dropping in a few three pointers at crucial moments.

The consummate team player, he was a repeat on the all-NBA Defensive 2nd team (i.e., one of the top ten defenders -- dammit, there it is again!), and the Sonics' franchise leader in assists and steals when he retired in 1998, having spent his entire pro playing career in Seattle. By then he was known as Mr. Sonic, and the next year they retired his number, only the team's fourth up to then.
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There's nothing like a winning streak to support whatever philosophies the winners work by: as of today the Blazers just won nine of their last ten games; and this with a young, "rebuilding" team that no one expected to hear from this season. Especially when they got the #1 pick in the draft last year, but then the poor guy went down with an injury -- for the year).
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Let me ask an important question that's been on my mind with this:
why isn't there ever a Top Eight or Eleven or Seventeen of anything?
If it's always Ten, don't you suspect that they either add or drop one or two to make it fit? And then where do those missing elements wind up?
(Omigod, it might be that one left-behind Reason #11 that's been the missing link all this time!)
~ ~ ~

Sports Illustrated article: "In his own words: Blazers coach Nate McMillan"
Related, here:
Dance vs. Hoops
(...for which I 've taken a lot of heat from dancers who, like, didn't get it. It's satire, people!)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

"View from a Creative Mind"

(Brief of a post of mine in The Heart Of Innovation, 1/3/08, starting with news of,)

"... a nearby exhibition, titled 'Illuminations,' of the work of Saul Steinberg, the artist most famously known for his frequent appearances over six decades in The New Yorker magazine. He was the clever fellow who gave us the much-imitated 1976 cover illustration of how New Yorkers see the world, 'The View from 9th Avenue,' where a couple of blocks of the city dominate, and the rest of the country occupies a small square of land in the distance.

"So much of his work displayed such a fresh, wonderfully creative mind that, for me, it 'illustrates' an essential attitude that successful innovators have. This is the habit of looking to see things newly, as opposed to how we usually see, which is through a haze of existing thought patterns; and, freely associating, to find useful connections between things that were hidden until then.

"In the words of the Saul Steinberg Foundation's page on his life and work, 'fingerprints become mug shots or landscapes; graph or ledger paper doubles as the facade of an office building; words, numbers, and punctuation marks come to life as messengers of doubt, fear, or exuberance.. ."

"Saul Steinberg: Illuminations" on view through February 24 '08 at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College, 124 Raymond Avenue, Poughkeepsie NY. (845) 437-5632.

(First spotted in Chronogram magazine, by Beth Wilson, 12/07.)

(Image courtesy of the Saul Steinberg Foundation's Gallery)