Kutcher + Dwolla = A compelling idea

I have a quick question. How many of you all like surprises? Well most of us like them as long as there is something good/and or worthwhile at the other end. For me a very interesting surprise happened just a couple of days ago. I came across a blog post on a startup called Dwolla. A company which reminded me, once again, that today's market is about fresh ideas, new business models, and the dynamism of the online world.

One of the ideas in which I have trumpeted, that (in my opinion) is carving out its own space in today's marketplace, is the idea of the intersection. The place where seemingly disparate ideas come together and actually makes sense in an interesting way. And on numerous levels the emerging digital landscape has required that we think, strategise and execute in very different ways than we have in the past. 

I was reminded of this in the below video talk with Ashton Kutcher and Dwolla founder Ben Milne. For two reasons especially.

#1. Dwolla is a very interesting start-up as it is creating a business that isn't missing the forest for the trees. It understands the changing landscape in a much more fundamental way...outside of just 'social media'. It looks at the idea of undiscovered value and how that can scale into a substantial business model.

#2. I really appreciate how Ashton in a very clear way (unintentionally I believe) makes the business case for the intersection of creativity (acting) and design (product invention). He states (at about 28:45) that the reason he likes working with consumer companies and is better at it, is because, as he says... "it’s really similar to being an actor … I break down a product the same way I would break down a character I was going to play and try to get inside of the mind of that person – the user, the consumer – and figure out why they’re doing something and what they want from it … and what’s the path of least resistance to actually get them to their end goal.”

Personally I hadn't really thought that deeply about Ashton (I actually like him in Two and a Half Men, though...). But after watching this video (he has some really thoughtful and solid ideas on things), I've learned a lot about his work that have also helped to further inform (and support) my own ideas and opinions around creativity, design and business.

Check out the video (which actually starts at about 2:50). For startup junkies...this is awesome stuff. Enjoy!


The edge...where creation lives

In life there are basically two kinds of people:

1. People who play it safe. 

2. People who take risks.

Neither one is better or worse than the other. They both simply 'are.' What is true, though, is that one group welcomes with open arms, their daily wrestling match with trepidation and fearlessness. It's these individuals that expand the boundaries of our limitations, change the landscape of the human condition and push the human race forward. 

This can only happen at one place though...the edge. A place that demands our attention as we look at how the world around us is changing, or in desperate need of change.

One just has to look at the changing US economy, the explosion of web 2.0, and socio-economic protest movements to realize that our traditional ways of living and working are increasingly broken. In an ever-changing world, seemingly growing more complex by the day, what is the path to innovation? Paraphrasing Leonardo de Vinci - we need to embrace simplicity in order to drive a sophisticated approach to problem solving in the 21st century. 

Two simple words and some profound thoughts.

Ice-T succinctly captures the essence of... the edge, where creation lives.


Get out of your 'silo'

                                                                                            photograph - Calvin Dellinger

One of the single most difficult things to do is to get outside of your head and take into into consideration a different perspective, an alternate viewpoint or even a diverging approach to any particular task at hand for you. The ability to get beyond your own 'worldview' and see your set of circumstances through a different lense, becomes invaluable on a host of different levels.

In the early 70's a gentlemen by the name of Steve Jobs decided to experiment with taking technology out of its silo and introducing it to design (...and in case you'd like to know how that turned out...)

A few other reasons to move beyond silos...

Visionaries - 99.9% (arbitrarily reached and a slightly exaggerated number...but go with me on this...) of the world are not innovative thinkers. More often than not, folks are pretty much nuts and bolts in their approach to things. Figuring out the process on how to make your idea utilitarian, accessible, and relevant is imperative. Talking in a language that 99.9% of the people don't rendering what you do, pointless. Your ability to get outside of your own mental silo and see your vision from a lay-person's perspective may be the difference between great success or sudden (or maybe even slow...torturous) death.

Techies - A quick valuable really is the new geo-mobile, location aware, web app, SaaS, cloud computing, drupal based, open source, Linux platform of use to the local deli that wants to simply sell more turkey sandwiches?? Technology language can often sound like gobbly gook to people who want to basically tell customers, "we have great food, come buy from us". Stepping outside of the tech world and hanging out in a jargon free zone could prove insightful to determine exactly how technology will actually be helpful to non-tech savvy individuals. Because contrary to popular belief, not everyone necessarily needs the latest and greatest shiny objects in their arsenal of tools to accomplish their business goals and objectives. 

Management Consultants - The goal is to develop and analyze performance metrics to help optimize distribution channels that will streamline business operations leading to increased revenue streams ultimately increasing shareholder value...(?!?!?). This sounds about as remarkable and meaningful as a tall glass of water and a rice cake (with a side of lemon). Businesses that treat their resources (people) as a commodity to mainly maximize profits, will find business trends passing them by (which I would argue, isn't a good thing...). Getting out of your shoes and feeling the robotic emptiness of these kinds of words, just may help in thinking differently to create a truly innovative, productive and inspirational work environment.   

These three brief examples, quickly demonstrate reasons why getting outside of your silo can be a worthwhile venture. Contemplating perspectives from the other end of the spectrum is not only empowering, but allows for some very powerful and impacting insights in the way of leadership, empathy and collaboration. Absolute necessities for adaptability in a changing, evolving and unpredictable global marketplace that simply never rests. 


Cool is the new Dead

                                                                    Photograph - Ruven Afandor for Italian Elle

Knock, Knock.

Who’s there?


Cool who? (silence…)

Uh hello…cool who?


Opening the door and peering outside, ‘cool’ seems to have, disappeared

Ladies and gents, (and ‘hipsters’), I’m sorry to break the news to you, but cool (as we knew it), is dying off. It wasn’t cool (hunters) who poached style, trendsetters, and counterculture, to the point of making them each an endangered species. It’s the reality that all things have limits, and the digital straw that broke the camel’s back…web 2.0.  

What made cool cool during the last 40+ years were scarcity, mystery and conviction. It was in the hands of the few, was an ethos with swagger, and ultimately, was a way of being. Personified it was Thelonious Monk, Paul Newman, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, Malcolm X, Madonna, and Basquiat (to name a few…). Then in the early 90’s cool found a way to be hunted, packaged and sold by a new breed of marketer whose job was to make observations and predictions about cultural trends. The first steps marching it into the industrial consumer complex. A  huge step expediting its downfall. 

Roughly a decade (and some change) later a number of unforeseen ideas would fully bloom: e-commerce, social networking sites, blogs, video sharing and wikis. Directly or indirectly every industry from fashion to manufacturing was coming to terms with the inexorable realities of ubiquity, accessibility and democratization. Tastemakers and big business no longer play ‘tug-of-war’ solely with each other. Their tenuous relationship is now being infringed upon by coders, digital geeks and technophiles. Cool is now being re-calibrated in the era of user generated content.

Additionally in the industrial economy, cool, like every other value in the marketplace, had limited distribution channels. But in a digital world ‘gatekeepers’ no longer hold sway like they use to. The filters allowing the ‘good’ to play and the ‘sub par’ to be kept on the bench, no longer exist. Everyone has access. Whether it’s with a smartphone, wi-fi, or a video camera. You have a mic, and the world is your audience. 

What’s interesting is that what continues to reverberate today is that all assumptions are out the window. The question staring back at every individual, organization or company looking in the mirror of today’s market: how do you become a signal in a world full of noise? In a world, where even cool has lost its edge, this becomes a gripping question.

Unfortunately there’s no silver bullet answer. But I’ll offer this: Post Cool just might be where you’ll might want to start… 


Bridging the gap

                                                                                          Image - room for space

"I believe that when people talk about solving problems with technology, what they're usually talking about is solving problems with design...which is to say, the application of psychology in a visual & functional context."
                                                                                                       - Jason Kottke

One of the most normal things in the world to have is a blind spot. It's not necessarily good or bad. It just is. When driving, if you're not careful, being unaware of your blindspot can prove distastrous.  In relationships your blind spot is your inability to see your shortcomings with your partner - I'm pretty sure all of us can relate to that...

Blind spots are part of our make up. We all have them in one form or another.

There's even, as we speak, a blind spot in the market.  With digital throwing into disarray many industries and their conjoining parts, the exaltation/disparagement of the emerging web economy has created a myopic discourse. More often than not the focus is on superficial maneuvers around social media (i.e. likes, pins, tweets, hashtags, followers, impressions, going viral) and there’s a vacuum around discussions about how these terms and ideas can begin to create a new kind of vocabulary for business models in a 21st century context.

Without a wider field of view, you are unable to access a wider field of value, which ultimately means leaving money on the table, and that gives any savvy businessperson a stomach ache.

Reinterpreting Jason's quote from above, my idea is this:

In order to maximize our opportunites with today's technology, we need to apply design thinking to create experience architecture that impacts how we think, feel and interpret the visual and functional spaces we interact with.

In today's market those spaces in which there is unprecedented opportunity is virtual/digital worlds, portable screens and physical places.

From where I'm sitting it's about intersecting disparate parts and closing the void. Making the connections between an object, its functional structure and its intention - organic vs engineered, emotive vs. sedate, and meaningful vs. insiginifcant.