The new normal is anything but

Our lives and the very markets we inhabit have become increasingly and overtly politicized at their core.

Our personal conversations online and off, our relationships to our customers and the connections we have to the brands that matter to us.

At an atomic and principled level, communications and language as well.

This has been sucking our time, inflating our emotions, and scattering our efforts.  It’s no surprise that an exhaustion permeates many of our social channels.

And the most unnatural thing is to act like everything is still the same.

It is not.

Many of us have desperately needed personal reboots and the more we find actions that satisfy the need to do something in the face of a changed world, the better we move forward.

Professionally as well, there needs to be a refresh.

In this unique instance in history, personal and professional both need to be rethought together. From the ground up on how we communicate. How we make decisions on what to engage with. How we market and advertise and affiliate ourselves.

The reality of course is that when emotions drive the majority of our responses–which they are more and more today–we need to re-examine communications at a behavioral protocol level itself.

We need to realize that the politicized spark is omnipresent, and ready to surface just about everywhere. And depending on who you are and what you selling, it is the smart move to step back and decide how to address this upfront.

The social nets are both the cause and the effect in many ways.

We are flocking there in even greater numbers to search out community and conversation. The base population for advertising and commercial engagement has never been greater, yet the the core state of the engaged has been transformed.

What we see is for the most part, laced with an underlying layer of vitriol and anger.

An endless array of arguments. Trollism as a new characteristic on all sides. And nothing be it the Superbowl or workout gear,  movies or art is extant from this. Behavior-and likewise commerce—has become a political statement by default.

This is the new normal.

It’s been a switch of utterances of the things that we like (the Facebook effect) to things raved against, the never ending list of things that cause disgust, fear and frustration of having few avenues to act on.

It’s become a normal reaction though invariably shrill. And wildly unproductive.

From a cultural perspective, we are all in need of avenues of expression. Somewhere, someplace to connect, talk, act out.

It’s uncovered the raw technological holes in our social platforms (see my post here) and if you are blogger or online brand, or anyone who spends a part of their waking hours online looking for community, it has also challenged you to find a poise around this.

So what do we do?

And how do we as individuals, as leaders, as companies find a productive and actionable poise towards socialization and work in a reality this raw and politicized?

A loaded question without a lot clear answers.

I started writing this post a few weeks ago and thought—wait!—maybe a new equilibrium will arise and we will inherit the normal again.

I think not.

We’ve turned a cultural corner and that door is shut behind us forever.

What’s telling is that the new normal touches everything from the education of our kids, our belief systems about the planet, animal rights, basic income, welfare of the unfortunate, the power of the 1%. Everything!

So how do we find a new pace? A new poise?

How do clothing manufacturers change their ads for underwear or socks on Facebook? How does this stylize how we talk about wine? Or exercise? Or vacations? Or the software we sell?

I’m not a believer that we need to wear all of our beliefs on our sleeves. But I do think we need to make decisions on how to address this new world in how we communicate, how we market, how we design new products and platforms for this new world.

To me there are three top-of-the-list rules that have been helpful:

Own your beliefs and understand that they are who you are, and how your market will view you.

Think hard about your beliefs, and then own them. Whether you shout them from your Facebook wall or not, they are who you are. Whining is unacceptable. Ownership of your thoughts is the new ethos of authenticity.

Pretending that nothing is changed is a losing strategy.

Embracing change and making it your own is always the right choice to make.

This is especially true if you work on the social nets. Understand that you are what you post and that no act, even a decision not to engage, is an act in itself.

Learn that the most powerful choice is often not to respond at all.

And that the common knowledge on the value of engagement has changed.

Posting is one thing. Fueling conversations quite another.

As blasphemous as it is coming from me,  I am much choosier about whether to respond at all in many instances. Often I don’t.

So…

We have had cataclysmic change before. But unlike the collective response to  9/11, for example, this shift is divisive more than disruptive, and in these early days seemingly isolating not connecting.

And this change is fed by the very amplification of the social web itself. Supercharged momentum living by gesture alone and the seeming enemy of nuance and reflection.

We as a culture are beginning to find our way in this.

But this is not a blip in time that peaks and ebbs. It is, I believe, the beginning of a rippling dramatic change, that will change everything about how we work, govern and live.

Whether it is circumstantial or serendipitous, I don’t know but the gates are very much open.

And as well, this post, for me, is a beginning.

Re-energized and inspired to figure out how not only to think about the new normal but use it, to manage this change to its advantage and move on to the business of life.

Stepping into the new year

(My site and this 1/2/2017) post were hacked and recreated below.)

This is what’s on my radar entering 2017.

These aren’t predictions so much as topics of interest.  Some I’m working on, some invested in, some chasing after the best ideas on how to get involved.

For predictions, see the brilliant post by Fred Wilson from yesterday.

Here goes!

Humanization of the social nets

The social nets showed their raw side in 2016.

They proved themselves incapable of platforming true serious debate. Structurally they appeared miswired to deal with human touch at scale and balance gesture and conversation, nuance and emotional beliefs.

I reject the idea that closed small groups are the only answer to true conversation and that social nets only really work face to face. Somewhere in the intersection of how our broad social nets host communities of interest lies the answer.

I’m presuming that Facebook is already working on this. I think Twitter has some unique advantages but appears too caught up in fear of failing to take advantage of this market opportunity.

I posted most recently on this here.

Rebirth & reification of the episodic, long-form conversation

The truth today is grey at best.

And conversations require nuance of thought and regardless of the complexity of the topic, some patience.

Blogs and podcasts, extended groupings in real life will become the town halls they were a half dozen years ago. I see this as less retro and more an awareness that gestures alone are not speech and that brands of value can’t be built on the back of hyperbole and mechanized content publishing.

In the face of ignorance and hate, we need intelligence, articulation and openness.

And as well, the skills of thoughtful analysis and storytelling will become the most important train of leadership and success.

The miscast intention of growth hacking and the data-before-thought trend will be pushed aside and market awareness, brand integrity, customer connections, and behavioral consumer understanding will be the first words on our whiteboards as we map our future.

Marketing as the art of communications with the market is overdue to be reimagined.

Local as a workable model

The more our population centers in vertical urban centers, the more real the smart city becomes and the more that logistics become a tool not a challenge to new solutions, the more essential the reality of local as a business model not just a market, becomes essential.

This is both the largest of messes and the ultimate opportunity.

Today, especially in the consumable goods industries, artisanal is a broken concept and invariably hits the wall within the margin crush of distribution, transportation, retail oligopolies.

In effect, local is both the answer and the problem.

The opportunity that must get fixed through the intersection of government cutting back restrictions, partnerships with the smart city infrastructure itself and a cutting into the monopolies of distribution model

Robotics as a panacea for the artisanal food conundrum

Artisanal as a model for consumable is fraught with issues of scale and margin.

I ran into this video last month and it sparked the idea that hand made is ready for disruption.

That one way to solve our food problem is to harness technology itself. The consumerization of robotics as a potential answer.

Crazy—I don’t think so.

I think that as this becomes the answer, where technology is a tool in the artisanal for hand-made and personal.

Think of science fiction caricatures of agriculture on Mars as a reality in Brooklyn to feed the metropolitan area.

Every backyard as part of a web of supply for an unfeedable urban demand.

Top down/bottoms up distinction will start to vanish

I’ve been touching on this for a year now.

That the pendulum of innovation is moving from the bottom to the top, from the individual to the enterprise, from ideas at incubators to corporations with the resources to truly accumulate and parse the data that sits behind most everything.

This is not obviating the startup culture certainly but nothing changes the world than the huge ship of the enterprise embracing it.

From changes in how we work, from incorporating IoT and I think the most profound, the resurge of understanding that enterprise sales, strategic selling into the world’s largest entities will become a rare skill as much if not more so that the need for the most brilliant programmers.

Location as a point of commercial value

Today, location data is free. Ubiquitous.

I think that proximity, dynamic location that includes not just where thing are but where they are in relations to everything else will come of age.

And that this will redefine location as free to a dynamic that is part of a business model itself.

Maybe through IoT finally surfacing out of the chaos of devices to a platformed software model. Maybe driven to address the mobile aspect of the changing workforce.

I know that many are tackling this and the groundwork for this to break open becomes more real daily.

What I am clear on is that this will happen in the enterprise first.

Happy New Year to all!

Through change comes opportunity. Through surprise comes the push to understand the why of what happened.

We certainly have lots of change and loads of surprise to take away from 2016.

And there are lots of opportunities in front of us.

Humanizing our networks

In the aftermath of the election, I keep waking up thinking “What do I do now?”

What can each of us individually do to impact the status quo?

For the last decade, we have turned to the social nets for this very activity.

For information. For engagement. For solace and support in the communities we form there.

This no longer appears to be working.

Possibly through the painful discordance of this year, the divisiveness of the conversations themselves, we are now more aware of the foibles of the social nets and their innate points of failure.

Their flatness. Their structural lack of nuance. The actuality that the analog/digital divide we herald so often as vestigial, is indeed not gone at all.

An interview with Albert Wegner on the ethical challenges of the networks, inspired me to approach the topic from a different point of view.

Understanding that while certainly the social nets are a digital reflection of our analog world, they are not a true mirror of it.

That we need to fess up to the fact that the very platforms we live on have a built-in numbness. A structural insensitivity that has left us somewhat churning as a culture.

On one hand, the nets are packed with rich media today,  real-time broadcast infrastructures.

But they are really black and white, monotone, even tone deaf by nature.

When our limited gestures become the nature of language, then thought is constricted by the primitiveness of the medium itself. And maybe indeed this flatness is why the messages now sound so shrill and hard edged.

When you think of it, our nets are simply an amplifier. Simply a transport system.

No filters. No carryover of human poise. No innate values.

Just a marble shoot of weightless data, where volume is the quotient for fact.

It took this year, for me at least, to come to grips with this.

It took the ongoing in-your-face political Facebook ads. The endless, real-time push attacks and retorts that made both sides appear tasteless, grating and wrong.

An unpleasant and unproductive shit storm. A context gone wild. A medium unsuited to the very debate that brought us there.

I’ve blogged on how different 9/11 would have been in a wired world.

But in the aftermath of it 15 years ago, I spent every day in Union Square with large circles of people—expressing ourselves, arguing, hugging and working out a new gestalt of community in that unprecedented circumstance.

It helped in a way that many seem unable to find today.

And with all this connectivity at our fingertips, all these communities ready to be formed, the nets have really not worked to societies benefit this year. Rather than a medium for conversation and connection, they’ve become a platform for dispute and divisiveness.

I’m a tech geek by trade. A community builder. A populist for a better future infused with the reach and power of a connected world.

But I need to say that both the apologists for Trump and postings on my news feeds from good friends warning of a doomed world, equally sound wrong and off to me.

We all agree that these are very challenging times, but the very nature of the medium itself feels not up to the job at hand. Or in the least, not flexible enough to handle the nuance of debate that this requires.

It feels like good intent squished into some Twilight Zone plot making everything appear a bit sideways and wrong. A shouting match. Barkers on the street corners and bullies in the halls.

I find myself pining for longer-form blogs and podcasts. Gobbling up the New Yorker. Searching for nuance and banter between people.

Hanging out at Racines, my local winebar, often with friends. Talking and listening. Looking into peoples faces.

Not necessarily finding an actionable answer to the question–What do I do now?  But experiencing the grounding effect of human touch.

We all know that it is so easy, almost tempting at times, to be a complete ass online. While in person, most of us are invariably emotionally correct even when politically we are on different sides of an idea.

And that emotional civility and correctness is a large step toward change that at some core level is absent on the networks today.

This post is a challenge to myself and my community to think this through.

We are certainly not going to abandon the social nets. Nor is face-to-face a scalable solution on its own.

We need to reinvigorate our social nets to be more human in scale. To be useful for debate.  To connect more naturally to the real world.

To be more emotionally correct.

To be aware of the connections between who we are and what we think, and the very platforms we use to express ourselves.

I firmly believe that for most things of importance, the medium is inseparable from the message.

This medium sorely needs humanizing as it is surely not as good as we are as people, and that is simply not good enough.

Reimagining innovation

We need impossibly bold ideas to transform our world.

We need to reset the bar of value considerably higher, based on cultural and global societal needs and tempered by the very possibility to impact meaningful changes in today’s world.

If we look at the most sweeping changes we benefit from every day—be they Uber, AirBnb, Bikeshare, Facebook, Slack or Twitter—I believe these will be seen over time as simply building blocks for a new set of changes we need to address.

From clean energy to a healthy food supply to cybersecurity to communications platforms to the impossible congestion on our roads.

We don’t need to disrupt these areas as much as we need to rethink them completely.

I’m honestly not in awe of how far we’ve come. I’m completely in awe of where we can get to now.

I think the scale of the needed changes will potentially reconfigure how we approach innovation itself.

For over a decade now we’ve evolved the concept of work and the structure of entrepreneurship from a bottoms up point of of view.  It’s changed our world and got us to where we are.

We have incubators, not unlike the old Hollywood studio system, that warehouse talent with a capital-first perspective, shuffling a broad array of people through a pitchfest for capital.

I’ve been part of this and it’s been an essential step.

But I wonder if this process needs to be rethought as well.

Whether in the upcoming years, this will still be spearheaded by team and founder as sacrosanct, and not one driven by the clarity and boldness of the ideas themselves as the organizing force?

Whether the idea of a startup will not change somewhat as more corporations with the reach, the resources and the data repositories will not become the capital sources tying innovation directly to infrastructure to leverage formative changes with less friction.

Whether this idea of change from the bottom up was a stage in itself?

Not about the aggregate of countless micro efforts but the need for big ideas that could capitalize on the massive potential we have today. Turning huge problems into a elegant, far-reaching solutions. Change built on the human capital and dynamics in our networks themselves.

I grew up in the tech industry as part of the revolution that a few people in a loft or garage could prototype something that could rewire our world.

It worked well and we are all the beneficiaries of this.

I wonder though if five years from today, the greatest changes we experience on the streets will come out of incubators and pitch fests. Or whether something else is brewing.

We are living the reality that the impossible is indeed possible. That unfathomable logistics are simply a step to take, not a show stopper when resourced.

I believe that we are entering an era where potentially, like in the entertainment industry, the creative idea is the starting point. The organizing principal.

The creative vision where possibility supersedes the mechanics of fundraising, team building, market penetration and the rest.

All are of course critical.

But I wonder whether we’ve turned a huge corner of both need and probability that the impossible can indeed happen in a new way.

Not that each and every piece is not critical of course. That iteration and execution aren’t essential, just that without the idea, without the vision, its just mechanics and skills.

Like walking into a factory or workspace  or an industrial kitchen. Simply desks and metal and technology.

With vision and creativity and an incubated idea, there can be magic that changes the world.

Try something.

Wake up early tomorrow and take a walk around your town or your city.

Think through how people move around. How transactions happen. How healthcare is instituted. How we live our lives. How we communicate cross time and space.

Never has a bigger ship with built in dynamics for larger and faster change been so verdant for rethinking. Where need and possibility intersect so easily.

Our world has so changed. Dramatically and for the better.

I have to wonder if the process of innovation itself, may not be next piece to re-imagine.

A requisite to even larger changes, rethought to suit the possibilities of the times themselves.

Community—the soul of the machine

Community as a market strategy, as a channel and in some cases a business model, is the personal bias of my career.

It’s my way of understanding the world.

Truthfully, it’s always been somewhat ineffable and perplexingly inchoate. You can arrange the pieces in perfect order with invariably powerful results when it works, but it is as well, always unpredictable.

This is changing.

Community as an entity is becoming on one hand more critical for commerce, on the other, more deterministic, and more tangibly coupled to the networks they spring from.

And while the networks that wire our world become fewer, more powerful and data smart, community where human touch and collective engagement gather, becomes more critical as an after effect.

Networks today while some lament their impact on privacy and their monopolistic power, are the necessary counterpoints, in fact the subset of each community we participate in.

The dynamic between the networks we frequent and the communities we engage with define in many ways who we are as people and inevitably, whether the companies we work for and the causes we hold dear are successful.

It’s in this pairing of networks and communities where I start my work, with a handful of basic truths that regardless of the uniqueness of the community, invariably hold true.

The more I adhere to these ideas as starting points, invariably the better the results.

Networks are the strings that tie our world together, but communities are what gives them meaning.

Networks are a common factor, while horizontal communities are by definition unique and invariably-vertically focused. Maybe it’s a cause or a belief or a shared obsession, but communities are formed around common interest, not around friendships or place.

Saying that a network has an identity is a stretch; having a community without one is neigh impossible.

Network infrastructure is where technology shows itself at its best, but communities are where emotion and empathy, self organization, action and engagement happen.

Networks get continually smarter but this intelligence at its core is about driving the human connections to aggregate behaviors and beliefs than can form communities where the real work gets done.

The smarter the networks, the more extensive connections can surface. The more possibilities that in the end game communities can be formed.

Networks are the tangible things we can leverage, communities are the aspirational goals we set for them when they capture the imagination of a market.

The world’s population is already platformed on the social nets. The objective is discovering the hooks to surface and tie people together from this massive strata of humanity.

When we scratch this out on whiteboards and intersperse all these elements, leadership is something that surfaces as the key focus to channel enthusiasm into action, beliefs into organizations based on a collective drive. Discover the leaders and the language they use to tell their stories and you have a strong place to start.

Neither networks nor communities are tied to place as much as they are grounded in time.

Where people are matters of course and we need to understand the dynamics of speaking to people where they are, platform by platform.

But community, the aggregate of connection around a singular topic or belief, happens cross them all.

In time, not really in a place.

In some instances (though more rarely), communities exist at an address like your URl. On a bar stool at your neighborhood wine bar, but more and more, community is less and less like a club, more and more like an impromptu gathering regardless of location.

Platforming communities may indeed be a myth.

Community simply happens. Often in spite of the poverty of the infrastructure.

I want to believe in a platform that will enable every brand to manage its own community but I simply can’t discover it nor for all my attempts. Can’t seem to build it either. Trust me I’ve tried.

We certainly use vertical single-function solutions like Kickstarter to transact around a common community goal, but the community is not in one place, it is spread out across the web.

It lives everywhere but there.

This is a perfect wave.

Sometimes things just stack up and point to a new future.

Usually the pendulum swings in art, culture and technology, with emphasis on one extreme over another. One movement in reaction historically to what preceded it.

I believe that we are seeing a merging of opposites to a common goal.

It’s not data collection that matters, its interpretation. It’s not networks with increasing strong AI that matters, its where the smarts of the networks ends up coalescing around the human connections of the people in community groups.

A digital world driving an analog value.

There are few times where the science of data collection is at one with the needs of human expression.

It is happening right now.