theorycast.65 :: Why organizations need their Chief Culture Officer

In this episode of theorycast, I interview anthropologist Grant McCracken (@grant27) on his recent book, Chief Culture Officer.

This interview took place at the Futures of Entertainment 4 conference at MIT, on November 21st, 2009. The video I captured from his book talk within the ROI of ROFL session panel is also included. From the video, you will see examples of cultural mistakes that major corporations have made, the penalties they face, and how they could have done better if someone within the company were responsible for providing cultural foresight.

Having studied American culture and business for 25 years, McCracken’s previous work included Transformations (2008), Flock and Flow (2006), Culture and Consumption II (2005), Big Hair (1996), and Culture and Consumption (1988).

In Chief Culture Officer (CCO), McCracken argues that culture now creates so much opportunity and danger for the corporation that we need senior managers who can devote time to focus on culture. In effect, these CCO become the early-warning system for companies to help navigate their relevant cultural landscape, as well as provide to more intimate cultural acuity into the way companies craft their brands.

In effect, McCracken is hoping to create a new occupational destination for people who can understand their organization’s cultural locatedness (e.g. social science grads), but are not presently channeled to draw upon their insight for the organization. It sounds to me that whoever fits the role of the CCO would also be similar to what Seth Gordin dubs as the Linchpin (2010), that is, someone indispensable to the organization.

The idea of of the Chief Cultural Officer is to…
Make commerce that inhales and exhales culture,
Make culture that inhales and exhales commerce,
Make a living, breathing corporation.

Download theorycast.65 :: Why Organizations need their Chief Culture Officer (.mp4 / 122mb), or watch this on Blip.tv. Feel free to subscribe to theorycast on iTunes.

Seth Gordin’s The Dip… Singapore style

Over on the Google Buzz side of my joblessness story, friends have been reminding me of A Singapore Taxi Driver’s Diary, probably the only taxi driver in this world with a PhD from Stanford.

I called him a genius because he’s managed to turn a downfall into an upturn (i.e. Seth Gordin’s The Dip)… he’s just published his blog into a book! Storytelling is such a crucial art.

My PhD buddy @MrBigLive then pointed out Amanda Marshall’sEverybody’s Got A Story” where back in 2002, the amazing singer had already called out academic inflation, with her lyrics which included “…and that taxi-driver’s got a Ph.D”. Don’t believe me? Take a listen…

Waking up with nothing… is it really exhilarating?

Up in the Air (2009)

1st month: Couldn’t get over the fact that I finally graduated.
2nd month: Glad that I was really a doctor (of philosophy).
3rd month: Slapped in the face: PhDs don’t mean as much nowadays.
4th month: Became an uncreative slob. Remained hidden from society.

I’m jobless. I’ve been at it for about four months now.

When I finally graduated, I thought that I had all the time in the world to do everything I ever wanted. On the contrary, being jobless and financially bleeding made it hard to get motivated. I realized that my most creative endeavors were when I was busy with some form of routine.

During the lulls of my previous job, I would sneak out a blog article, experiment with video, or do something out of line as a form of escapism. Usually this personal innovation time off (aka Google’s 20% time) later became extremely useful for me (e.g. watch social cyborg project trailer).

Being too free felt as if I had a limitless blank canvas… at some point I realize that I needed some constraints in order to kick off creatively (see Boring + Boring = Pleasant?!). Now I feel like I have nothing to escape from… a prison without walls (see Kerala’s open prison).

I recently watched Up in the Air (2009), where George Clooney’s jet-setting character was designed to expertly lay-off employees across the country. In our bleak economic climate, that translated to a lot of business (and air miles) for him. To every employee he laid off, he’d say the following, “Anybody who ever built an empire, or changed the world, sat where you are now. And it’s *because* they sat there that they were able to do it.”

It’s a chance for rebirth.
As they say, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

Serendipitously, I discovered a short film entitled Lemonade (2009), which was about ad-folks whose lives had changed for the better since losing their ad jobs. When 37 year-old copywriter, Erik Proulx, was laid off from a large agency in Boston, it was the third time he’d been terminated in less than 10 years. He started a blog, Please Feed the Animals, to serve as a support group for other unemployed ad professionals. According to his movie’s synopsis, some 70,000 advertising professionals have lost their jobs during this recession.

As enlightening and delightful as it was for some to discover their true passion, I believe that most of us have not located our pleasure centers, and might never will. Understandably, it’s not that easy for everyone… we’re scared.

Before I entered university, I was actively being the life of the party. In the early 90s, when the Internet was first publicly accessible in Singapore, I started a web publishing business to combine my trifecta interest in what my dad appropriately dubbed ATM (Art + Technology = Money).

My mantra was to make friendships productive, by calling upon classmates, training them in basic HTML coding while working with them on building client relationships. Related side projects were born from this, including online music communities Substitute.com and FrontalLabs.com.

I sometimes do wonder if all this education had ruined my drive… after all, the more I generally knew, the more I felt paralyzed. The realization of how little I was relative to my peers humbled me to the point of fear and self-loathing.

Almost sharing my dilemma, Lemonade’s producer Erik Proulx recently responded to a lady named Lisa, who had been laid off in 2008 after a 14-year career in broadcast journalism. She sought an answer to her plight, so he told her “[d]on’t be the person out there looking for the job. Be the person out there doing something interesting.” What followed from her were a series of “but, but, but” responses, a situation we’re all too familiar with. Paralysis.

Seth Gordin's Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? Digging deeper, Erik quotes Seth Godin’s Linchpin (2010, currently #1 Amazon book on careers), where Steven Pressfield’s “the resistance” comes into play. According to Pressfield, the brain naturally wants to retreat to the comfort of normalcy and inaction. There are so many reasons to not do something. But the biggest is that the voice that asks “what if?” is usually drowned out by the voice that screams “it’s too scary.” Erik and Gordin both believe that the answer lies in a high tolerance for fear, where you have to see failure not just as a possibility, but a certainty.

As Erik puts it, “If you’ve failed at something, it also means you attempted something. You’re alive.”

Ironically, while I started by explaining how I had become routine-less while being jobless, I realized that there was a larger routine at work. I believe that I would get back into the game if I changed something in my life… such as moving somewhere else. Nine years in a place without family nor friends (most have left Buffalo) isn’t socially conducive to me in any way. After all, we’re more mobile than ever.

I remind myself what I’ve shared with friends before, that we have to keep experimenting until we find our groove. Then when we’ve worn that out, we have to find yet another beat to dance to.

But don’t just take my word for it.

Richard Nelson Bolles preached career self-reliance, or at least career self-direction, in “What Color Is Your Parachute?“.

“If you don’t take time to figure out what you want to do with your life, you will be at the mercy of all those forces out there today,” Bolles explained.

Job-hunting, or more ubiquitously, finding our passion, is a continuous, never-ending process. We have to keep being curious about ourselves. It’s not a luxury anymore; it’s a matter of survival.

Aside: As a segway, Tara Hunt investigates the conundrum of love vs. greatness. I think it’s great that there isn’t a best option. We chose our own beliefs, and the bottomline is to always work hard at it.

Update 1: Carolyn Lim suggested I watch Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address. It’s aptly titled “How to live before you die“.

Update 2: From an email conversation, I’m reminded of a book title which fits what we’re experiencing. For folks like us whose lives seem to be in limbo, my favorite line has always been from the title of a book about earthquakes: The Myth of Solid Ground. While it’s an intriguing book which discusses “earthquakes, prediction, and the fault line between reason and faith”, the title also seems meaningful to how we are now living in an era where everything seems less constant than ever before.

Update 3: Friends are sharing their interesting personal stories on routine-breaking and joblessness via Google Buzz.

the3six5 project… or how I learned to embrace the emergent

the3six5 project

Around the start of 2010, I began hearing about this idea dubbed the3six5 project. A bunch of transmedia and emerging media folks discussed it with great fervor.

So I took a look…
frowned…
then asked…
“What’s the big effing deal?”

Every day, a different person would step in and write a journal entry of what was going on around him or her. There are rules of course, like being assigned a day insignificant to the author (i.e. no birthdays, anniversaries), writing a reflection of life that very day from the author’s location (i.e. the stark reality), limits to the number of words, and finally, zero blatant self promotion.

Everywhere Magazine: a crowdsourced travel mag Yes, it’s crowdsourc-ive, it’s storytelling, it’s experimental, but is it too simplistic and too random?

Prior to the3six5, we’ve seen very well curated examples that have even been put to print, such as user-generated magazines Everywhere and JPG. In other words, this isn’t new… so what’s really going on here?

Thinking back at the3six5, I even tried to suggest connectivity between stories…

So I wrote to the3six5 co-founder, Len Kendall

“While some of the twitterati I follow seem to like this project a lot, I beg to differ. I value the experimental (back to personal writing) nature of it, like how it provides a “snapshot” of our world from different perspectives, but find the articles all too disconnected from one another. I feel that it lacks connectivity, a kind of holistic purpose behind it. Perhaps I need to be unhinged to the idea of a plot? That said, I admire the difficult simplicity, consistency and diligence behind this project.”

To which Len calmly replied…

“Your reaction makes sense. There is certainly a disconnect between people. But I think that people’s minds often try to get non-fiction to mirror fiction. But that’s not how life operates. It’s very random, and this chronology reflects that. What makes it flow is that once every few days some folks with mention a “checkpoint” in time. Haiti’s earthquake, Obama’s spead, Apple’s ipad, etc. So that 10 years from now, if you read this story, you’ll have some sense of what was taking place at that time and when that time was.”

At this point I’m widening my sights to treat the theme as a giant chronological expression. Len explained that enforcing a theme pressures fiction around our non-fictional world. Thanks to our increasingly politicalized news media, perhaps it’s our learned reaction to pigeon-hole social reality. I have the sensation that what some storytellers are seeing, that isn’t apparent at face value, are qualities which will emerge from both the process and product of this particular sousveillance literature. The fiction will eventually appear because we will implicitly, and punitively, place it there.

As Len blogged, within the first 30 days of this year-long work, we’re already seeing a string of patterns emerge:

The web can be a really messy place. On creating order from chaos, Len writes how “Crowdsourcing ain’t easy”. Maintaining 365 authors for 365 days is pretty intense work, which makes me wonder if this project could ever work as an entirely community-governed iteration.

The number of views, comments and retweets act like an invisible leaderboard. There’s growing competition, or as BBHLab’s Ben Malbon puts it, “God help those writing in November…”. Throw in a few celebrity writers (ZeFrank!), and it looks like I’m pretty much screwed.

And on forcing fiction upon non-fiction: Margo Gremmler said “[…] you brought us all together in an author mosaic”. While I can’t wait to see the big picture, I thought that Gennefer’s tweet was rather poignant for the3six5’s journey…

Twitter / Gennefer Snowfield: @brainopera I'd add we're ...

Almost everyone contributing to this project agreed that “the case study for this project is going to be just as interesting as the project itself.”

To appreciate the3six5 experience, I asked if I could contribute, and was kindly given the day of 24th November 2010. It’s weird… but I suddenly feel like I own that day. It becomes both my honor, and my burden.

For a better idea of the3six5 project, be sure to read Ben Malbon’s “Interview with the3six5 project founders: 365 days, 365 perspectives

Mental Links: Deconstructing news reportage, iPad meta-critiques, the cyborg brain…


How To Report The News, by Charlie Brooker… a very frank deconstruction.

  • iPad: Overhyped Flop or a case of Great Design Thinking?
    Media studies graduate student / thinker @VenessaMiemis provides a very thorough examination of the diverse perspectives to what Apple's iPad means for the future of computing.
  • Fraser Speirs on Future Shock
    “What you're seeing in the industry's reaction to the iPad is nothing less than future shock. For years we've all held to the belief that computing had to be made simpler for the 'average person'. I find it difficult to come to any conclusion other than that we have totally failed in this effort. Secretly, I suspect, we technologists quite liked the idea that Normals would be dependent on us for our technological shamanism.”
  • A Whole New Mind | Daniel Pink
    All the iPad discussions seem to point me back to Daniel Pink’s book. He observes that the future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind. The era of “left brain” dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which “right brain” qualities-inventiveness, empathy, meaning-predominate.
  • Clive Thompson: "Garry Kasparov, cyborg"
    What if, instead of playing against one another, a computer and a human played together — as part of a team?
  • Project SIKULI
    Sikuli automates almost anything with screenshot ease, thanks to it's visual recognition technology. Works with any computing platform, including Mac, Windows, Linux! (via Lifehacker)
  • Panopticlick
    EFF asks: Is your browser configuration rare or unique? If so, web sites may be able to track you, even if you limit or disable cookies.
  • The Pinky Show: Structure, Power, & Agency
    Pinky's been thinking a lot about class treason lately: What does it mean that we do so many things in our lives 'automatically'? What can we really do to make this world better? And what will we have to give up or risk in order to achieve it?
  • Pictures + Stories = Pictory! And It's Pretty. // Current
    Pictures have never been more share-worthy than they are within Pictory, a new, community-driven, ongoing series of photos and the stories behind them. Get out your Kleenex… some of this stuff will truly tug at your heartstrings! The Internet can be so great.
  • List of Corporate Social Media Strategists, Corporate Community Managers in 2010 « Jeremiah Owyang
    There are very specific requirements for this list, please read before submitting: 1) You must have a public LinkedIn profile page that 2) indicates that social media is part of your full time career and job –not just for personal use, 3) You must work at an enterprise class corporation with more than 1000 employees.
  • Securing your iPhone's traffic | Macworld
    There are several firms that specialize in “rent-a-VPN” service for travelers who don’t have a corporate information technology department behind them handling VPN service. I'm thinking it's the easiest way to spoof your iPhone's IP as well.
  • Reboot These Sci-Fi Shows Next, Wired.com Readers Plead
    Brings back lots of memories… though sadly I watched them alone with no one to share stories with.

Mental Links: TheSixtyOne, Sarien, Data.gov, Controlled Serendipity, Keynote Tweet, Booki, and more

On My mind: This Week in Links (012510)

I keep having these aspirations to have my own daily video show, but until it actually happens (yeah right!), I’ll just share recent links I’ve enjoyed. I’ve heard from some of you that this is what you like best from my blog… less talkie, more linkies!

  • Sarien.net – Instant adventure gaming
    Welcome to Sarien.net, the portal for reliving classic Sierra On-Line adventure games. With its focus on instant fun and a unique multiplayer experience, Sarien.net hopes to win new gamers' hearts and promote the adventure game genre. (via @tiffchow)
  • “Socialgraphics” webinar slides « Altimeter Group
    Recorded webinar of Altimeter's “Understanding Your Customers’ Social Behaviors“. You can also download from Slideshare.net (for slides) and drop.io (for the recording).
  • Get Glue: The Network That Sticks To You
    Glue is a service that helps you find your next favorite movie, book, music album or other every day thing (here's a list of supported categories). Glue shows you things that you'll like based on your personal tastes, what your friends like, and what's most popular on Glue.
  • Government posting wealth of data to Internet – washingtonpost.com
    Under a Dec. 8 White House directive, each department must post online at least three collections of "high-value" government data that never have been previously disclosed. All the new data collections will be added to the government's Web site, data.gov.
  • ‘Controlled Serendipity’ Liberates the Web – NYTimes.com
    Observational article on twitter users as content curators & human aggregators.
  • IDEO Labs » Keynote Tweet: Participate in the backchannel of your own presentation
    Enter Keynote Tweet, a simple open-source script that provides the capacity to participate in the backchannel by combining Twitter with Apple Keynote. All you have to do is add text wrapped in [twitter] and [/twitter] tags in the presenter notes section of a slide. When that slide comes up in the presentation the script grabs that text and sends it to Twitter on your behalf.
  • Conversations About The Internet #5: Anonymous Facebook Employee – The Rumpus.net
    Samzenpus on Slashdot wrote: "A Facebook employee has given a tell-all interview with some very interesting things about Facebook's internals. Especially interesting are all the things relating to Facebook privacy. Basically, you don't have any. Nearly everything you've ever done on the site is recorded into a database. While they fire employees for snooping, more than a few have done it. There's an internal system to let them log into anyone's profile, though they have to be able to defend their reason for doing so. And they used to have a master password that could log into any Facebook profile: 'Chuck Norris.' Bruce Schneier might be jealous of that one."
  • The 4 Big Myths of Profile Pictures « OkTrends
    To write this piece, we cataloged over 7,000 photographs on OkCupid.com, analyzing three primary things: 1) Facial Attitude. Is the person smiling? Staring straight ahead? Doing that flirty lip-pursing thing?,
    2) Photo Context. Is there alcohol? Is there a pet? Is the photo outdoors? Is it in a bedroom?, 3) Skin. How much skin is the person showing? How much face? How much breasts? How much ripped abs?
  • TheSixtyOne: Beautiful music listening + discovery + game service
    TheSixtyOne is an amazing way to discover new music online. It's chock-full of musical goodness — including lots of Creative-Commons licensed music that can be freely downloaded. It turns music discovery into a social game and lets you "heart" songs (you only get so many hearts to give out each day, depending on your level). If others then "heart" those same songs, it means you've helped them discover good music, and you get more "reputation" points (which in turn allow you to level up and "heart" even more songs, and so on).
  • iSites – Create your iPhone/Android app now
    iSites enables you to create and self-manage apps for multiple smart phones (iPhone, Android) from one place. Just $25!
  • Thwapr – Mobile To Mobile Video Sharing
    The easiest way to share videos and pictures from your phone to your friends' phones. All you need is text messaging and a mobile browser. Thwapr is free and requires no downloads.
  • An Illustrated History of Location-Based Technology – BlackBook
    As far back as 200 BC, humans have been busy inventing a variety of tools to help steer us in the right direction. This timeline is an informative look at just how far we've come when it comes to location based technology.
  • UK Launches Open Data Site; Puts Data.gov to Shame
    Data.gov.uk has nearly 3,000 data sets available for developers to build mashups with. The U.S. site, Data.gov, has less than 1,000 data sets today. When will we see Data.gov.sg?
  • L+E Visual Thinking Archive – a set on Flickr
    This group of visuals has been designed and produced by me (David Armano). You are welcome to use the visuals for presentations, slideshows and blogs posts. Please provide proper attribution and a link is always appreciated. davidarmano.com
  • Booki: CollaborativeFutures
    As we began the collaborative process of crafting this book on the future of collaboration, we realized we were all working from a set of assumptions, many of them shared, some of them divergent. We were talking about a specific form of collaboration, specific media of collaboration, and specific goals of collaboration. And we were talking about a specific history of collaboration, and a correspondingly specific set of futures.

Confessions of an Expatriate Singaporean Mom (turned Accidental Entrepreneur)

Foodies from SingaporeMalaysiaStore.com
A tasty care package courtesy of Audrey’s online grocery store.

Audrey Lim Sipping on a nostalgic white milk tea Audrey Lim had kindly sent me, I ask this extraordinary expatriate mother of two what made her move to the States and how she got started with her online Asian grocery store, SingaporeMalaysiaStore.com

As a working mother of two school-age children, Audrey Lim was constantly on-the-move. Being in the States, she craved for food from Singapore and Malaysia, yet wanted a easy way to fix up an authentic-tasting local meal without the required hassle. Seeing a need, the SingaporeMalaysiaStore.com was created to help overseas Singaporeans and Malaysians re-connect with their heritage through simple-to-prepare delicious food.

Continue reading ‘Confessions of an Expatriate Singaporean Mom (turned Accidental Entrepreneur)’

Teacher Evaluation Forms for the LOL Generation

Abi Huynh's Teacher Evaluation Forms

As educators, teaching evaluations can sometimes make or break our careers as seen in this New York Times article. Artist Abi Huynh, from the Royal Academy of Art, the Netherland puts a new spin on the otherwise boring survey form.

Don’t bother. The image is too low-res to print, so we’re encouraged construct our own versions.

Source: New York Times “Judgement Day” // via worldfamousdesignjunkies

theorycast.64 :: Visiting Brandtology – an online brand intelligence startup from Singapore

During my Singapore vacation in October ’09, I caught up with Kelly Choo, co-founder of Brandtology.com, to learn more about their online brand intelligence service.

While there are numerous online sentiment monitoring companies in the States, such as Radian6 and Omniture, this space is relatively new and growing in South-East Asia.

As mentioned before, my friend Ben Koe works at JamiQ, which differentiates from Brandtology’s intelligence suite with a straightforward, hands-on approach to social media monitoring. There’s also ThoughtBuzz, which I recently read about.

To better understand the strengths of each startup, check out SG Entrepreneurs’ interviews with Brandtology’s Kelly Choo, JamiQ’s Ben Koe, and the ThoughtBuzz team.

Businesses have traditionally (and still do) debated about the lack of proper social media metrics. As many in the online space would explain, there’s in fact a deluge of metrics which leads to a dilemma of choice. While concepts of viewership and circulation were somewhat sufficient for traditional media, social media affords a broader range of metrics. The real first step is really determining what we want to measure.

MarketingSherpa.com: Leveraging Social Media

For instance, as seen in MarketingSherpa’s 2009 Social Media Marketing & PR Benchmark Guide (PDF), it’s been found that social media is very effective at building brand awareness and reputation, while it’s yet to prove itself at driving online sales. There’s no silver bullet; every media has varying levels of richness, with leaner media tending to be more distributive. Our choice of media involves a host of factors, which is why media intelligence (social or not) gets more valuable than ever.

Did You Know: The music in the end credits comes from Starfish Stories’ latest album, Crystal Tears and the Dream Nebula. It’s track 5, “Stroke of Midnight v2.3″, which I bought for a dollar.

Download theorycast.64 :: Visiting Brandtology (.mp4 / 35mb), or watch this on Youtube and Blip.tv. Feel free to subscribe to theorycast on iTunes.

NLB’s ‘myLibrary’ Facebook App is damn shiok!

Sivasothi (@sivasothi) and Ivan Chew (@ramblinglib) tipped me off on the Singapore National Library Board‘s new Facebook app, simply called ‘myLibrary‘. What’s interesting about the app is that it integrates much of our typical library transactions right into Facebook.

At first we might wonder, “What’s the big deal about a Facebook app? Can’t we already access the same services by going to the library’s web site?”

True that, but more than just a matter of accessibility, it’s about being “within reach” to users, and extending their library use into the third place. Allowing users to recommend books to friends or posting what they’re reading directly onto their Facebook profiles is very much for the library’s win (i.e. word of mouth).

Since the Facebook app does require an NLB account to play with, I’ve made a quick five minute screencast above for the benefit of our international librarian friends (also on Youtube for the kiasu ones). If you can’t or hate watching videos, you can also read all about ‘myLibrary’ at NLB’s Facebook FAQ page, which includes a user guide (PDF) complete with annotated screenshots.

So far, the tweets about the ‘myLibrary” has been largely positive (many of whom were surprised!), so I do hope NLB keeps up the great work. I love our innovative librarians, and this in turn makes me proud of Singapore.

UPDATE 1: Some folks have asked if NLB has plans for mobile apps, and while there’s no official word, my sources have quietly hinted in due time. Meantime, we can always point our iPhones to http://m.nlb.gov.sg

UPDATE 2: If you’re so inclined, Ivan Chew (@RamblingLib) has shared screenshots of NLB’s myLibrary Facebook app.