There is an old saying that states it is not WHAT you know, but WHOM you know that matters. I prefer a twist on that saying because I have found that the “what” is often just as important as the “who.” Speaking of “it’s whom you know,” my flight from Seattle to Austin for SXSWi was full of familiar faces.
Of course, in today’s rapidly evolving social media landscape, culling through all the noise to figure out what is important and who are the influencers can be a nearly impossible feat. And if you plan on attending a big industry event — like I am this week in Austin at SXSWi — well, good luck sifting through the tweets from attendees tossing back a few beers at bars and clubs to find the smart posts from experts and panelists.
With this in mind, we recently joined forces with two brilliant up-and-coming Portland companies, Little Bird and Tater Tot Designs, to create a new Web application called Hey Big Fish. Hey Big Fish launched earlier this week at SXSWi and will help those attending and/or tracking the event measure the people and topics that carry the most influence in the SXSWi pond.
I’m excited about the partnership for two reasons:
First, we are building an extended family around our agency by partnering with two companies that have complementary strengths to our own. Little Bird contributes the influencer discovery platform that the app is based on, and Tater Tot Designs delivers the digital solutions that make the app responsive and easy to use.
Second, the result is something NEEDED by our industry and our clients — global brands that want to reach their key audiences in the most effective way possible. Hey Big Fish generates data that help these brands identify where their audiences are and which topics interest them most, enabling our clients to break through the noise.
With Hey Big Fish you can track your own influence and networking success with personalized event scorecards to see where you rank in the SXSWi pond.
Personally, I plan to use Hey Big Fish to follow the conversations around reducing waste in the vaccine supply and the efforts to reduce global poverty — personal passions and topics of interest for me. This tool allows me track the conversations at SXSWi and discover new influencers who share my interests, enabling me to connect, share and, ultimately, make an impact.
I strongly believe we have some of the smartest people on the planet at Waggener Edstrom. Part of my respect and esteem for these colleagues is their recognition that our industry is always changing, and as it changes we need to be at the forefront, developing new ideas and new solutions that will continue to deliver impact for our clients. Sometimes this push for impact means looking beyond our own agency.
Check out what the future looks like.
Yesterday I had the honor of speaking at the TED University session at TEDGlobal 2011. My topic was Wildfire Stories and, more specifically, how to take impactful innovations that can (at times) be complicated due to the science and technology required to bring them to life and to simplify the story around them so their impact can be understood in a manner that helps get the story told — and more importantly heard.
During the presentations, audience members had the opportunity to engage by speaking out about a big trend that TED attendees should be thinking about – comments were just thrown out from the audience floor. One comment shared from a gentleman from NASA was very relevant to my talk on storytelling: “The danger of over-simplifying complex ideas” was a trend he was worried about.
I intend to find that TEDster to hear more about his concern; I agree 100 percent that we cannot afford to trivialize complex challenges and issues so knee-jerk decisions and actions are taken because this can sometimes drive greater issues than those they were intended to solve.
But I’d also share the following:
- Even as a kid, I loved science. I entered science fairs every year (my favorite was making my own paper from a wooden block out of my toy box) and grew up in a household where understanding the complex was expected. My dad used to quiz me on names of obscure rocks and minerals.
- I believe my upbringing and becoming so intrigued by the wonder of science and technology were driving forces behind my founding the agency that bears my (and my business partner’s) name today. I wanted to be able to bring together the curiosity of the innovator who asked the question of “Why?” — or, as is often a better question, “Why not?” — when developing a breakthrough innovation and marry that with the passion for TELLING that story in a way that removes barriers to adoption and IMPACT.
- As I mentioned in my talk, the reason this is SO important is because an invention doesn’t equate to being an innovation — and an innovation has no impact until it gets into the hands of the people who can most benefit from it.
One of our core values at WE is curiosity. Sometimes we probably have embraced this to nearly a fault when we constantly ask “Why, why, why?” But by asking those questions in partnership with our clients and listening to the answers, we can demystify the complex — that is what enables us to take the amazingly innovative, and sometimes equally complex, and make it a story that can truly change the way we live. That’s exciting stuff — and is the reason I still love the work I do today as much as I did over 25 years ago.
In the past month I met with a number of agency people, including a group of our Senior Account Executives, and the topic of entrepreneurship within the agency came up every time. This got me thinking that we should figure out how to motivate more people to try out their new ideas. So off I go to ideate with colleagues (guess I should include our CFO) about how we can make this more actionable.
Last night, as I was going through trip photos, I found this one of a woman entrepreneur in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Granted her venture is very different from some of what our people want to experiment around — but the qualities are the same: CREATE, MEET A NEED, DESIGN A DELIVERY SYSTEM, TELL THE STORY.
This is a subject near and dear to my heart. In fact, I look forward to sharing about it more during the TED University portion of TED Global 2011 in Scotland the week of July 11.
New ideas and inventions come from those who see “a different and better way” nearly everywhere they look. These entrepreneurs see a need, and believe fervently that they can make a difference; they take risks, embrace failure, mix it up and find a way to bring their idea to life. As I mentioned in my last post, I was recently in Beijing, speaking to the American Chamber of Commerce in the People’s Republic of China. We discussed: Can an entrepreneurial culture of innovation be CREATED?
Being a 27-year-old firm means that we have had our fair share of reinvention cycles; in fact, I would say we are ALWAYS moving through many changes to embrace new ideas and improve. In the past six years, though, we have significantly increased our rate of change, not only to stay on the edge of integrated communications, technologies and social networks but because we are pushing ourselves to create broader, deeper and more highly relevant impact and value for our clients. Here is what we’ve learned so far about how to create a culture of entrepreneurs:
- Break down the silos between groups. With 900 employees, it could get easy to stay within your own team. But often the best ideas come from a diverse set of people working to solve a problem or design an opportunity.
- Find your risk-taking muscle and train it, so that taking smart risks is embraced across the entire organization. Learn from your failures; and share broadly. This starts at the top – leaders need to model risk-taking, admit mistakes, and embrace new ideas vigorously outside of hierarchies.
- Challenge your teams to redesign the way they come up with ideas. Invest in the time to learn new methods of ideating – mix up people (tech can help bridge miles) and even ideate with your clients in new ways.
- Maximize the use of technology for your own collaborative use. Your tech team needs to be a strategic part of your leadership team with the ability to design to a vision that can be inherently global, but intrinsically local.
- Give your people free time, and give them incentives to use it as they want. Daniel H. Pink does a good job of linking this to what motivates people in his book Drive. Ask your people to share, and be truly interested in what they’ve learned. Build peer-to-peer networks within the organization where like-minded people can compare, contrast and ideate.
- Find ways to recognize new ideas that have resulted in powerful impact for clients, or for your organization. And remember having this be peer-to-peer and grassroots, in addition to senior recognition of great work, is extremely significant to your people.
While I was in China, I asked the teams to share what they are working on with their clients (thank you to Carolyn Chen, Rosemary Xu and team) and was impressed with their ingenuity, and their nimble approach to getting things done. My own team can learn from this, and so can our other offices.
In March, I was also with our team in Boston and I heard a fantastic idea from one of our account leads, Brian Bogie, about how his team won a new client. I loved his story and approach, which was based so strongly on building the relationship the right way over time. I asked him to write it all down, knowing I was asking for unplanned workload; he did this energetically, it was shared out, and within minutes people were sharing their own stories and collaborating – and we further honed our best practice within a 24-hour period.
Find those ideas. Embrace them. Share them. Develop them. And teach them.
Great ideas come from living one of our core values — CURIOSITY — and always asking WHY, WHY, WHY? Or, even better, asking WHY NOT?
I love ideas … and I love the different ways by which they are generated and come to life. We all certainly know that failing, struggling, and facing environmental pressures or competitive forces all can lead to new ideas, although this process is often reactive by nature.
But how do we get to the BIG IDEAS that live in us but aren’t necessarily proactively awakened because we are already meeting our goals and it appears we are doing well overall? The tragedy is, those ideas can stay dormant or, even worse, wither and never see the light of day — if we don’t pause and allow ourselves to dream.
So, put your thinking caps on and I hope you enjoy the video we made (click the image below) to kick start our dreaming.
The first house we bought in Seattle burned down five days after we moved everything into it. Our housekeeper had put a hot log into a plastic garbage bin with paint rags. No one was hurt, but all of our “stuff” was charred, waterlogged or smoked out. It’s hard to not describe this as a Bad Thing. In the midst of making long lists for the insurance company, I came upon this haiku:
Since my house burned down
I now own a better view
of the rising moon
I had a friend write it in calligraphy for me, and it hangs on our wall. Living in an apartment with no furniture in the first few years after the fire, I would notice the little sign and say, oh yeah, sure.
Now, it makes sense.
It is not easy to see the forest for the trees. It is not easy to see the big, great idea when you are surrounded by the tyranny of your “list.” It is not easy to dream at all, really, unless you have taken some freedom from whatever might be surrounding you. Some refer to whatever stuff surrounds them as “clutter.” Maybe it is, or maybe it isn’t; that isn’t the point. The point is that until you can find a way to break free from it — whatever you chose to call it — it will be harder to see what might be different, what might be new, what might be radically unusual or even radially obvious.
Take a break, take a walk. Spend time with someone completely different, or spend time with someone you are close to, but talk about something completely different. Make room and see what comes into view.
I have recently asked all our employees to share their ideas, because although I don’t recommend going through something traumatic like losing your home (obviously), it is always refreshing to make room for new and different perspectives.