Where ideas come from

Wired News hosts a conversation between Kevin Kelly and Steven Johnson, who’ve written similar books… Steven – Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation; and Kevin – What Technology Wants.

Steven “finds that great creative milieus, whether MIT or Los Alamos, New York City or the World Wide Web, are like coral reefs—teeming, diverse colonies of creators who interact with and influence one another.”

Kevin “believes “technology can be seen as a sort of autonomous life-form, with intrinsic goals toward which it gropes over the course of its long development. Those goals, he says, are much like the tendencies of biological life, which over time diversifies, specializes, and (eventually) becomes more sentient…”

I’m glad Kevin and Steven are making the “hive mind” point, a rationale for softening rigid proprietary systems and encouraging collaboration and interaction… sez Steven: “innovation doesn’t come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect.” Great ideas emerge from scenes, the solitary inventors are just catalysts for the execution (no mean feat, though).

Weed it and reap!

Following up on my email democracy rant

Quick followup to my “standing in line for democracy” post: I had complained to Steven Clift of e-democracy.org about the message restrictions on the United States Issues Forum. He followed up with a couple of thoughtful emails. “The goal,” he says, “is to produce a more thoughtful, civil exchange.” He acknowledges that it’s an experiment that might not work. He notes that, in effect, message overwhelm turns potential participants off. This is an old issue with email lists, often a cause for moderation, less often handled with arbitrary constraints like this. I appreciate what they’re trying to do, and I’ve rejoined the list. I’ve been pretty silent on this stuff for a while, preoccupied with other issues, but I’m hoping to find ways to promote more and better conversational environments. What we’re calling “social media” often isn’t as social as we need to be.

Rethink “marketing”

Dave Peck’s written a blog post where he says his clients are questioning whether they want to use Twitter as part of a social media mix. The arguments he quotes suggest that his clients have an experience similar to the experience we have when we go to a “networking event,” and find that everybody in the room is hoping to sell, and nobody’s looking to buy. Dave asks “can somebody really get clients from Twitter? Is Twitter Overrated and Overhyped?”

A few responses to his post, including mine, make a point I would think is obvious: if you think of Twitter as a platform where you “get clients,” you’ve already stumbled, fallen, can’t get up. I use an old media example that we all still use, the telephone. All companies have telephones, but not all companies do telemarketing. Many people place themselves on a “do not call list” because they specifically do NOT want to be interrupted by sales calls from strangers, and in general telemarketers are regarded as a lower life form. You don’t want that for your company, right? But the telephone is still a valuable tool for authentic voice communication, and it can be business critical even if it’s not about “getting clients.”

If you set up a Twitter or other “social media” account for your company to “get clients,” you’re not understanding the new world of bottom-up personal media. That’s okay, nobody expects you to shift paradigms overnight, it takes a while to sink in – broadcast media is losing mindshare to personal media, what we’ve been calling social media, where everybody can be both producer and consumer, in contexts where they can control we all have increasingly more control over which messages we receive. It’s Darwinian: people are selecting environments where they can exclude or skip interruptions from strangers coming in from outside their preferred focus of attention – i.e. the broadcast television/radio approach doesn’t work, because the captive audience has been liberated by technology.

So much of our thoughts and attitudes about marketing and selling were developed within the context of mass marketing, because that’s where we lived, but it was really a blip in the evolution of media. “Markets are conversations.” In the past, we had real conversations with the people who sold us products and services – this was before the “mass” phase created a sense of abstraction both ways – customers were numbers, and the actual sellers were ghosts somewhere beyond the actual touchpoints, unseen, only imagined. In the future, we’ll have real conversations again, this time mediated by technology. How this scales is still a big question, part of the bigger question of how we reorganize around the robust, data-intensive, increasingly mobile communication technologies we’re evolving in the 21st century.

But you have to rethink the whole client acquisition thing. It’s more like “how can I build and sustain relationships that are relevant to my business (or nonprofit, or cause, etc.)”