A big part of my day job is to help organizations with their brand positioning and strategy.
So when I read the article in the New York Times this past Sunday about TEDx, the relatively new (and incredibly popular) offshoot of the legendary TED conference, I thought it might be a good opportunity to take a closer look. The issue?
Clearly TEDx has been a smart community-building strategy, but will it ultimately prove to be a smart brand strategy as well?
Let me take a few steps back. If you are not familiar with TED (seriously? have you been camping in Siberia?) you can learn more here.
The main TED conference is a place where smart people (with big $$ and a personal invite) go once a year to hear other smart people give short talks showcasing how smart they are. The rest of us poor, unconnected folks wait patiently for the nice TED people to release the TED talks one by one, teasing us like a painfully-slowly dripping faucet teases a man dying of thirst.
And that’s the way it worked. Until last year when, in June, TED announced a new program called TEDx that would allow anyone to organize their own TED conference anywhere in the world.
The New York Times article tells the story of what has happened with the TEDx program in a little over a year:
…there were 278 events last year in places as near as New Jersey and Florida, and as far as Estonia and China. There was TEDxKibera, held in one of Africa’s largest shantytowns in Nairobi, Kenya. And there was TEDxNASA, which had space-themed lectures.
Already this year there have been 531 TEDx events. Another nearly 750 are to take place this year and beyond.
Wow. Now that is community-driven innovation on a grand scale. From one event per year with a small number of people attending at a very high cost to almost two TED events per day, held around the world, and almost every event is free. All that in a little over a year.
I’d call that a smashing strategic success. A soon-to-be-classic community engagement story.
But if we look at the decision to create TEDx from a traditional brand or intellectual property point of view, would it also be viewed as a good strategy?
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
This morning’s New York Times had a great article entitled Multicultural Critical Theory. At Business School? highlighting the changes many business schools are making in the way they teach their students. Probably the most visible leader of this movement has been Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, who is prominently featured in the article (and will be speaking here in Raleigh next month at the Institute for Emerging Issues Forum).
(VIDEO: a recent Roger Martin talk)
What kind of changes are the schools making? From the article:
“While few [business schools] talk explicitly about taking a liberal arts approach to business, many of the changes are moving business schools into territory more traditionally associated with the liberal arts; multi-disciplinary approaches, an understanding of global and historical context and perspectives, a great focus on leadership and social responsibility and, yes, learning how to think critically.”
Why? Look around you. In business, we are currently experiencing a double crisis of ethics and innovation. Take the results of a recent Gallup poll on Honesty and Ethics of Professions. Americans now trust the ethics and honesty of businessmen less than lawyers. Ouch.
As people who’ve been reading this blog for a while know, it’s called Dark Matter Matters because I see some similarities between the struggle that physicists and astrophysicists are going through attempting to find and measure dark matter and dark energy in the universe and the struggle among marketing and communications professionals trying to quantify and measure the value of their investments in brand, culture, and community. Read more in my intro article here.
From time to time I like to keep all the marketing folks up to date on how their colleagues in physics are doing on the whole dark matter thing, and there’s been some interesting news over the past week.
First, there was an article in the New York Times on Saturday saying that scientists have discovered a mysterious haze of high-energy particles at the center of the Milky Way. Some think these particles may be the decayed remains of dark matter. From the article:
At issue is the origin of a haze of gamma rays surrounding the center of our galaxy, which does not appear connected to any normal astrophysical cause but matches up with a puzzling cloud of radio waves, a “microwave haze,” discovered previously by NASA’s WMAP satellite around the center. Both the gamma rays and the microwaves, Dr. Dobler and his colleagues argue, could be caused by the same thing: a cloud of energetic electrons.
The electrons could, in turn, be the result of decaying dark matter, but that, they said, is an argument they will make in a future paper.
Clearly the authors of the research are still hedging their bets, and other scientists apparently believe the findings are inconclusive. There will need to be still more research before anything gets proven for sure.
Meanwhile, our good friends in charge of the Large Hadron Collider, which has been out of commission for the last year, are about ready to roll again after the massive failure last September that caused catastrophic damage. The Large Hadron Collider is an enormous, multi-billion dollar supercollider built underground beneath France and Switzerland by physicists trying to prove, among other things, the existence of dark matter (funny side note, read this article about how the collider might be being sabotaged from The Future). Good article in The Guardian yesterday here on the current status. From the article:
Cern scientists have begun firing protons round one small section of the collider as they prepare for its re-opening. Over the next few weeks, more and more bunches of protons will be put into the machine until, by Christmas, beams will be in full flight and can be collided.
The LHC will then start producing results – 13 years after work on its construction began.
So stay tuned. The physicists are getting closer– if only we marketing folks were doing as well!
Finally got around to reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book Outliers. I’m late to the game on this one, so I’ll skip the full review and instead point to some good summaries about the book here, here, and here. I have other fun stuff I want to cover today.
For me, this book was his best yet. Gladwell’s gift is he is an amazing storyteller, and in this book he once again takes semi-boring academic research and makes it deeply relevant and interesting by crafting a beautiful story around it.
Here’s a short synopsis of Outliers. I decided to write it in the form of a limerick. I have no idea why.
Some folks become world-class Outliers,
Achieving success we can’t help but admire,
But smarts and ambition,
Aren’t the only pre-conditions,
Great timing and practice are required.
Basically, Gladwell is saying you can be the smartest guy on Earth and achieve nothing worth mentioning. But incredible, world-class success (think Bill Gates, Mozart, the Beatles) is a mashup of being born at the right time in the right place to the right people with the right genetic makeup while having the right things occur to you at exactly the right times in your life.
Oh, and you need to get in 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at your craft.
This last concept really got to me. The idea that in order to become an expert in your field, you need to put in 10,000 hours of practice has been covered extensively. In fact there are two other books out describing the research behind this assertion, The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle and Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin.
Hearing the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs stories of perfect timing and early practice in Gladwell’s book started me thinking about a few things.
Very cool article in the New York Times yesterday entitled Care to Write Army Doctrine? With an ID, Log On.
The gist is the Army is running an experiment in mass participation, allowing any member of the Army, from five star general to latrine specialist, to edit a test group of seven Army field manuals using an online wiki. From the article:
“For a couple hundred years, the Army has been writing doctrine in a particular way, and for a couple months, we have been doing it online in this wiki,” said Col. Charles J. Burnett, the director of the Army’s Battle Command Knowledge System. “The only ones who could write doctrine were the select few. Now, imagine the challenge in accepting that anybody can go on the wiki and make a change — that is a big challenge, culturally.”
It sounds like the reaction within the Army has been all across the map, some viewing it as an extremely progressive step forward to others thinking the idea is totally crazy. But top Army leadership appears to be behind the idea. Again from the article:
The idea has support at the highest ranks. Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell, the commander of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., wrote on the center’s blog on July 1, that “by embracing technology, the Army can save money, break down barriers, streamline processes and build a bright future.”
Here at Dark Matter Matters, we give this idea a huge +1. The army is employing some of the same principles we open source folks have employed to great success. A few key parts of the open source way applied here:
I just finished reading the new book Free by Chris Anderson, which I read on my sweet new Kindle for the low, low price of… you guessed it… free (the Kindle edition was free for the first month, but you missed it, $9.95 now).
For those of you who aren’t familiar, Chris Anderson has been with Wired Magazine since 2001, and is currently the Wired Editor in Chief (a fact that I copied directly from Wikipedia, something he has also been accused of doing).
I’d consider Chris a member of the pantheon of Folks Who Can Decently Explain What the Heck Is Happening On This Planet Right Now, alongside Thomas Friedman, Malcolm Gladwell, and Michael Pollan, among others.
However, I have only recently forgiven Chris for his long tail concept that unleashed hordes of marketing droids blathering on for hours about the long tail of this and the long tail of that a few years back. I’m not saying he wasn’t right, it was a great book. But, dude, you have no idea what you put us through. Torture.
Here is my attempt to paraphrase the 300 pages of Free in two sentences:
The price of digital content is moving quickly toward free. So stop bitching about it and figure out a business model that allows you to make a decent living anyway.
It’s a brilliant book. And I’m not just saying that because I work for a company that figured out a way to build a profitable business model that plays well with free. As I was reading, I kept thinking how eloquently Chris was stating complex concepts that I’ve been living with at Red Hat for years, but had never been able to articulate (he even mentions us in the book three times, score!).
I also kept thinking what another great truthteller named Bob Dylan once said: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the way the wind blows.”
Or maybe you do. Turns out there are a lot of people out there who passionately disagree with Chris Anderson about the conclusions he draws in this book that I found rather obvious.
There was a short article in the New York Times the other day about a quietly launched new government website called data.gov. The purpose of the site is to collect the amazing wealth of information created in the agencies of the US government in one place and make it freely accessible to anyone.
We open source-minded folks think that is just swell. In fact, this subject has been of interest to me for a long time. When I was right out of college and working for the literary agent Rafe Sagalyn, we actually wrote two books intended to help people find the great information the government was putting together for us, but not doing a good job actually getting to us.
The first was a book called Uncle Sam’s Guide to the Great Outdoors, which told you how and where to write or call the government to get information sent to you before you planned a trip into the American wilderness: national parks, forest, wildlife preserves, and whatnot.
It was all great until this dumb Internet thing came along and made it easy for people to access this sort of information online. Now that book is a relic of a bygone era of phone calls and manila envelopes.
But actual government datasets… that’s a much more complicated issue. Until now, it’s been very hard to get broad, searchable access to these datasets without advanced knowledge or tools. And they’ve certainly never been in one place and one standard format before. Data.gov is just a start, but I love the philosophy of the site so much I’m including it here:
Yesterday Red Hat’s brand manager, John Adams, showed me a New York Times article about Intel’s new brand campaign that they call “The Sponsors of Tomorrow” that launches on Monday.
From the Times article:
[The campaign] focuses on the amusingly weird, technology-focused culture of Intel and celebrates the company’s role in the future, rather than the present… the ads highlight achievements of Intel engineers in a humorous way.
The campaign is Intel’s first ever that focuses on the brand rather than products… and that’s where its power comes from.
…ad executives began spending time at Intel, and noticed its appealing culture. “We started thinking about Intel, like, ‘OK, what’s it like in the cafeteria when they’re in there eating lunch together?’ There’s got to be a whole hierarchy of people in there who they admire,” Mr. Bell said.
There first few bits are pretty funny and showcase the weird rock star computer nerd culture that exists in every tech company I’ve ever seen. It will be very interesting to see where Intel takes this… and how the public reacts. I’m kind of digging it myself!