The Perfect Gift for a Young Man

passageAs I made that awkward transition into adulthood, I felt like I spent years pretending to be a man. Assuming the space and stance of a man. Answering (sometimes) to the name “Mr Heaton”. But I was rarely comfortable.

It was only some years later when I felt like I stopped the pretence. But the thing is … it wasn’t a conscious decision – the facade simply fell away. I just realised one day that the energy I was investing in my own creation was now focused somewhere else. It seemed to focus into myself, rather than outwards towards others.

And from that point onwards I felt comfortable in my own skin – as if I was filling out the clothes that I had been wearing since my teens. I felt I could breathe the shape of the world and hold it in my chest. It was a revelation.

The thing is, we all come to this sense of being in our own time. And the greatest surprise is that this well of understanding is always-already deep within us. Look quietly. You’ll find it there.


Every man has a story – no matter his age or experience. If you know someone whose story should be told, share it with us here. Each of these stories will be published in a special publication in time for Father’s Day in September 2009.

How To “Add Value”

I remember a performance review early in my career. I was looking for constructive feedback, wanting to know where I could improve the way that I worked and what particular steps I could take to gain a promotion or better conditions in the following year. But all my manager could respond with was “add value”. And the further I pushed this topic, the more I realised that he really did not know what he was talking about. He was simply reverting to “corporate speak” to avoid giving me a pay rise.

In the world of marketing, there is also a lot of talk about “adding value”. But what does this mean? What are the practical steps that we can take to deliver this "value" to our clients? How do we work as agencies to transform the experiences of consumers? Both Sean Howard and Paul Isakson point out this great presentation by John V Willshire that takes us down the path of creating and delivering value.

What shape does this take? What can we honestly do to transform the work that we as marketers or agencies do.

John’s approach is to look at both the history and future of communities, by understanding the dynamics by which communities come together. The important aspect of this, for me at least, is that the focus is on the co-creation of context – which means that we need to strategically consider context over placement.

But as the focus of this presentation is about how we engage communities – whether they are business communities (which gravitate towards brands or products) or local (geographic) groups and so on. John suggests that there are four clear areas where we should focus our added value efforts:

  • Do something that is useful for people
  • Entertain people
  • Educate people
  • Connect people 

This presentation positions the brand at the very centre of the consumer experience, but Sean suggests that this misses the true opportunity. Rather than pre-empting Sean’s thinking around this, I will wait to see what he comes up with. But I have a feeling that it centres around two things: passion and social judgement. The anticipation is delicious.

Connect! Countind Down for the Project 100

Some time back, Jeff Caswell put a call out for contributions to an Age of Conversation collaborative book. The topic? Marketing in the Social Media Era.

This new book, Connect! challenges 100 marketers from around the world, to keep their chapters to 400 words – and still challenge, provoke and inspire readers. The aim of the whole project is to raise funds for research into breast cancer.

I must admit really enjoying being just a contributor to this book and savoured the moment of emailing my contribution through to Jeff, knowing that the hard work was now just beginning. The book itself will launch on April 6.

Join Us in Twitter Poetry

Way back in March 2007, I decided to run a Twitter experiment. How could we turn “conversations” into “collaboration”. So I setup an account with the aim of producing a collaborative/crowdsourced poem.

The result, almost two years later is this poem (unfortunately you need to read backwards). We have over 230 updates and 350 followers.

But I think we can do better, you and I. Why don’t you login and add to this poem. You can either:

  • Log into the TwitterPoetry account: Use the username TwitterPoetry and password twitterpoetry and contribute a line to the growing poem.
  • Follow TwitterPoetry: Become a "follower" of TwitterPoetry and see how the poem grows as and when someone else contributes to it.

Oh, and if you figure out how to flip the twitter stream around, please let me know!

Community, Trust and Social Judgement

Mark Pollard shares this excellent presentation given to the IgniteSydney crowd recently. In it, Mark talks about his experience of running a large, interesting, and influential website, Stealth Magazine … well, it started out as a magazine, but is really a meeting place – a community – for hip hop. Since 2002 there have been 128,000 posts, 11,000 topics and almost 2000 members. Clearly this is a vibrant (and viable) website – and in this presentation, he shares his Seven Things to be Learned from Hip Hop. You can read through the background notes here.

What was particularly interesting to me was Mark’s conception of community – and his point that “anonymity is the antithesis of community”. This,in turn, generated some debate with Julian Cole and Matt Moore driving alternative points of view. Of course, like any definition, “community” is also hard to pin down.

My interest in community is mostly around the way that communities move (and can be moved) in relation to human behaviour. Whether we know it or not, almost every interaction we have with another person leaves a trace of our identity. Think Gattaca on a physical level and think language/nuance on an emotional level. Think style in terms of our visual footprint. The thing is, we are pre-programmed to be social – so we betray ourselves even with our best attempts at subterfuge. And for all the chaos and noise of our daily lives, it is remarkably easy to find the holes in “fake identities” only because it is incredibly difficult to be consistently somebody else. And this was made abundantly clear to me recently when I was the subject of an experiment in chaos, courtesy of Marcus Brown.

Taking a lead from this speech by Heath Ledger as the Joker, flipped a coin and decided to unleash a little chaos. On me/my site. It appeared that he had learned of some flaw in Feedburner that opened a door … or so he claimed, and I was being singled out as “Mr Age of Conversation” – yet another . But he paused before moving ahead. He published a poll asking whether chaos should be directed at me, or at his own site. He gave us a choice. By coincidence, this all happened during a week when I was disconnected – on holiday and with very limited Internet access … so I did not really know what would happen and what the outcome would be.

I waited for the votes to come in. I checked my email each couple of days, but could not see much action. I visited Marcus’ site a couple of times but the voting looked pretty close. Eventually, the votes were counted. I had received an enormous number of votes – and I thank everyone who supported me. As Marcus explains:

People will do anything to save Gavin Heaton. What surprised me most was how devious they were about doing it. I know for a fact that most of the people (there were about 700 of them) came into vote off the back of an email. It was brilliant to watch because they were keeping so quiet. There were only a couple of tweets about it and the volume was very low. It was fascinating to watch.


What Marcus was watching via voting patterns combined with web analytics, was the activation of a community. But more interestingly, it was a swift and directed course of action set in train by a single request (as Marcus explains, most voting was triggered off the back of a single email – sent not by me). And this is where community comes into play. While the “network” could have been used – such as Twitter or a blog post – that sort of open dynamic can also invite additional chaos and randomness into the mix. That means, that for every positive response (on my behalf), there could well have been additional random responses which could go either way.

In my view, community is about belonging. It is about the actions and interactions over time which build a web of mutually reinforcing reputations. These repeated patterns of micro interactions allow us to create a “social judgement” about the people with whom we interact – even if we don’t know their names, we know them by the traces left in the consistency of their actions, in-actions and communications. I was “saved” from chaos by the orchestrated mobilising of a community to which I belonged – by the people in whom I had established a bond. And at the heart of this, at the very centre, was trust. As Valdis Krebs explains:

… people are loyal to what they are connected to and what provides them benefits. People stick with established ties they trust. Interacting with those we know and trust brings a sense of warmth and belonging to the virtual communities we visit via our computer screens.

By activating a community (rather than a network), response could be directed.

As I have said before, Marcus is one of the foremost practitioners of social media creation. He inhabits and creates a storyline like no one else I know, and activates it with an intensity that turns our gaze around on ourselves – making us ask the question – will he do it … or will I? That is, he forces us into a state where non-participation is also an act of engagement.

When I read the lead-up posts on Marcus’ blog, I was wondering who he was targeting. But by the end of the first post, I had an inkling that he was talking about me. There were clues scattered throughout that were pointing in my direction. And yet, even when he did announce that I was the target, it still sent a shiver down my spine. My intuition had read the signs, but I had not yet comprehended this – I was caught by the story, and had not yet brought it into my real world. But I was reading superficially. I was reading what was SAID, not what was MEANT. I was ignoring the mind reader’s toolkit.

What does this all mean?

Clearly “authenticity” is hard to fake – but we ARE easily swayed by a compelling story. It’s why headlines work so well – they set the parameters for the narrative that follows. For in the story – and in this case -  a live unfolding of events, we are in-effect practising SOCIAL JUDGEMENT. And while, in real life, we are able to use a variety of cues to determine the trustworthiness of certain situations and/or individuals, in an online environment, we are still finding our way. As David Armano asks, do you know who you are talking to?

The thing to remember, however, is that trust trumps story.

On reflection, I realise that over the last few years I had followed, almost to the letter, each of Mark Pollard’s seven steps … but it was the last THREE steps (pass the mic, let the community self-regulate, get off the computer) that were the catalysts for action. And this is important – because my interest is in driving behaviour and creating the conditions for participation.

And as we move into the meat of 2009, and your marketing plans firm (or shrink), I want you to consider this. Think about how “social” your media plans will be. Think about the directions you want to move and how you want to get there. Determine the conditions through which you can create social judgement. And most importantly, ask yourself – who do you trust – and who trusts you?

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Get Into Your Groove with the KaiserMix

Have you ever wondered what social media is all about? Here, I will let you into a trade secret. It is just TWO things.

  • Being social — reaching out, activating, participating and exciting people
  • Doing things — creating content, sharing ideas, holding events

Now, you might think that this sounds easy. But you see, the challenge is, in a digital landscape and in a social world that crosses borders, timezones (and sometimes even boundaries of common decency – jokes), the crafting of a compelling offer and the telling of an enlivening story requires a broad array of skills and expertise. And you will find that the bloggers and social media participants who do this well have a breadth of expertise that normally resides in a TEAM of people.

Now, Marcus Brown is one such person. I profiled Marcus in my first Mining the Gold post, but that was a retrospective. Tomorrow night (Australia time), we all have the opportunity to actually PARTICIPATE in one of Marcus’ creations. It is called the KaiserMix and it will be a heady mix of music, streaming, photography and live bar action direct from Munich. It is easy to participate, as Marcus explains:

I’ve set up a twitter account (robbed myself of a former Character’s Twitter account) called TheKaiserMix
which you can of course follow. I’ll only be using this twitter account
on the evening and it’ll be tweeting my blips – and through that odd @
functionality the blips of everyone following me. If you’re on the road
and want a song played just send an @TheKaiserMix to me on twitter –
and I’ll play it.


I’ll be taking lots of photos during the evening which will be appearing in the slide show widget you can see above over on The Kaiser Mix
blog (the charming Gentleman in the slide show above is Snoop – and
along with Joseph runs The Schwarzer Hahn). If you’re there, like in
“The Hahn” on the night and you have a flickr account you can upload
photos and if you tag them thekaisermix (just that tag) they
automatically appear in the slide show. Likewise if you’re not going to
be in Munich but you’re listening or watching (see below) you can
upload your version/experience of The Kaiser Mix.


For those of you who are not going to make it to Munich, there is of
course blip itself. If you follow me and use the @thekaiser function
you can send me songs you want played. If I play your blip it’s goes
into the kaiser’s playlist.

Yahoo Live:

OK, as some of you know I’ve been playing around with the video
streaming stuff – and think I’ve got it nailed. You can either watch
the event, live (starts around 21:00hrs C.E.T) on The Kaiser Mix channel (where you can chat with me during the evening – and if you’ve got a video camera stream on the channel as well) or on the The Kaiser Mix.
If you’re especially excited by all of this you can actually embed the
yahoo live widget on your blog.

Hope to see you in Munich … or a screen a bit closer to home!

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It’s Not Time to Cut Through But to Cut Out

As I have grown older, I have been amazed to realise that the more I know, the greater is my capacity to learn. Not only can I quickly absorb new information and transform it into knowledge, I can also direct this towards business and branding opportunities. Even where I come in contact with some completely foreign information, my brain scrambles to find a connection that allows me to contextualise it.

But what about you? Do you find that your capacity has increased over time?

Angela Maiers provides a great explanation in this 30 minute class. She leads us through the different types of connections that we can make so that our memories can be stimulated:   

  • Easy – the simple connection can be made because of our exposure to a topic. There is no work involved here. A common topic will add a new layer over the knowledge schema that we already possess – and the information will be readily accessible to you in an instant.

  • Dig – while a piece of information may not have an instantly recognisable hook on which you can make a connection, a small amount of digging into your own knowledge will help you. This will require some effort, but will also help turn a piece of new information into actionable knowledge.

  • Impossible – when we are introduced to an alien concept, we are faced with an impossible situation. There are no EASY ways to make sense of the information. Digging provides no context and no prism for understanding. When faced with the impossible piece of information, our natural instinct is to begin to memorise, to rote learn – but this is a mistake, for without providing some personal context to this information you will not be able to retain and apply this knowledge. It will gradually fade from memory.

In the last 10 minutes of this video, Angela shares an approach that allows us to begin creating NEW memories. She explains the technique for creating the first thread of retained knowledge upon which you can build additional context.   


  • Chunking: After reading/absorbing a piece of information, the main ideas are categorised by the ideas that they invoke. This is not about collecting facts. It is about finding one or two words that connect and explain the overall concepts.
  • Joining the dots: Once you have the “big ideas” you then need to make connections between them. You need to write them down. You need to establish a narrative between them.

Now, think about this from a branding and marketing perspective. Have you ever wondered why some things stick and some don’t? In general, the information that comes to us through advertising is “impossible”. We are hit by facts and assaulted by images. These all seek to CONVINCE us.

However, if we are each subjected to 5000 marketing messages per day, the blink of an eye that acknowledges each new message will instantly erase the previous one. This means that those marketing messages that are mediated, that come with BUILT-IN context, are more likely to anchor in our memory (hence the use of popular music/spokespersons) – and this plays particularly strongly for digital/social media.

And in a time of increasing financial uncertainty, brands will be looking not to CUT THROUGH but to CUT OUT. It won’t be a matter of your brand standing out in a crowd, but of eeking out some space in which it can create meaningful context in which your consumers can participate. Those brands who have begun experimenting with social media will have an advantage in these tougher times; and those who have not will need to accelerate their engagement by hiring agencies and consultants who have a deep understanding of hands-on brand activation in the digital/social media space.

Interesting times? Sure … but really, as Angela Maiers says, it’s about making connections.

YouTube and the Context of “Being Social”

When it comes to understanding the impact of digital media on the way we live our lives, there are few who dig as deeply as Michael Wesch. This is a recording of his speech at the US Library of Congress in June. And while the presentation starts off with some impressive statistics about the number of videos uploaded to YouTube (9,232 hours per day — 88% of which is original), the fascinating aspect of this presentation is the focus on story. In his own words:

… that is the story of the numbers and this is really a story about new forms of expression and new forms of community and new forms of identity emerging.

For the following 45 minutes or so, Michael Wesch leads us through a discussion on the way in which digital media is celebrating and connecting people in entirely new forms of shared experience. He starts with Numa Numa and his famous The Machine is Us/ing Us. Interestingly, the latter was initially launched the Wednesday before Superbowl Sunday — and as he had quickly reached an audience of over 200 people he sent a screen shot to the head of school for his permanent record. By Saturday the audience had grown to over 1100 viewings and the video had been posted on Digg. As you probably know, this video has at current count, around 5 million views.

As an anthropologist, Michael Wesch is providing a fascinating analysis of the shifts in society and culture that are already underway. In this video he shows how user generated content + user generated filtering + user generated distribution is reinventing the way in which we create, find and share branded and unbranded material via the web. This potent mix is ignited with a final piece, which Michael calls "user generated commentary" — ie blogs — however, I feel this is better represented as user generated CONTEXT. When blog authors share content with their readers, they create a context into which the content becomes more accessible and digestible for their particular audience. It is this final piece which is an essential part of any digital strategy. I fully recommend setting aside an hour to watch this presentation through, however, if you have limited time, I have written my thoughts below.

About 12 minutes into the presentation, Michael turns his attention to the media. Here he talks about the media not as technology but as a system through which human relations are mediated. This is given more context by showcasing the way that remixing and remastering videos allows others to participate in a video meme (eg Charlie Bit My Finger and its 100+ responses). Clearly this is not just about claiming 15 seconds of fame. This type of participation goes to the very heart of the P-L-A-Y (P-ower, L-earning, A-dventure, Y-elp of surprise), delivering an experience that crosses the chasm that is imposed upon us by culture, geography, suburbia and even the isolating experience of TV viewing.

But the experience of this is dislocating. At 23 minutes, Michael explains "context collapse" which is what happens when we first begin to "participate". For example, think back to the first time that you wrote a blog post, think about your first comment on another’s blog. By participating in this way, you release your thoughts into an environment in which you have no context. You don’t know how it will be read or understood, nor where or when. You don’t even necessarily "know" your reader. Now, apply this same thinking to video. You are "speaking" or "presenting" to a small webcam, not a person. Well, not yet anyway. The human interaction is delayed, mediated, spread across time and space. It takes time for "participants" to become used to this new mode of delayed being. It is, perhaps, why the easiest way to understand blogging is to participate.

At around the thirty minute point, Michael walks us through the topic of cultural inversion. This describes the tension that we (in a cultural sense) experience as participants. On the one hand we express individualism, independence and a keen commercialism while desiring community and relationships within an authentic context. YouTube, and to a certain extent, other social media, allow us to experience this tension as a deep connection with others without the responsibility that comes with close, personal relations. It strikes me that by adding a third party into this equation, for example, a "good cause" like a charity, you are able to move quickly from this state of mediated connection to "community actualisation" (thinkng a community version of maslow’s hierarchy of needs).

But what happens when this is "gamed"? Michael explores YouTube’s authenticity crisis about 36 minutes in, using EmoKid21Ohio and LonelyGirl15 as examples. Ten minutes later the topic of copyright is broached (any remixing is basically illegal). Using a clip from Lawrence Lessig’s TED talk, the challenge is contextualised — the culture has moved on and the law is struggling to recontextualise its own relevance:

You can’t kill the instant the technology produces, we can only criminalize it. We can’t stop our kids from using it, we can only drive it underground. We can’t make our kids passive again, we can only make them "pirates" … and is that good?

We live in … an age of prohibitions where many areas of our life, we live life constantly against the law, ordinary people live life against the law … and that realization is extraordinarily corrosive, extraordinarily corrupting, and in a democracy we ought to be able to do better.

The presentation is wrapped up by video quoting bnessel1973:

Some people say that the videos we create on YouTube should be created in hopes to change the world. I have made mine to help me live in it.

What’s Next in Media

There is some great discussion going on around the nature, role and function of media. Neil Perkin has put together a great deck that digs into the impact of social media, while Craig Wilson looks at the potential of social media for local and regional brands. Interestingly, that is one of the comment threads suggested by Matt Hazel.

What do you think? What’s next? What’s missing? What is going to create the next, next thing?

Interesting South Debrief In-Brief

  Lauren Brown sketches the speakers 
  Originally uploaded by servantofchaos

The Interesting South gang (Emily Reed, Katie Chatfield, Ian Lyons, Gregg Girling, Matt Moore, Rob Marson, Stig Richards, Tim Longhurst, Gavin Heaton, Lauren Brown) breathed a collective sigh of relief around midnight last night. After months of planning, the presentations all came together in a way that held the sellout crowd in thrall.

Our speakers performed very well in front of a large and curious crowd at the Belvoir Street Theatre. As we started, our MC for the evening, Tim Longhurst asked the audience to turn on their mobile phones and contribute to the conference via Twitter or by SMS direct to his mobile phone.

Mark Bagshaw kicked off the proceedings with an astounding speech about opportunity, challenge, disability and optimism — setting a very high bar for all who followed. Roger Dennis encouraged us to look at different industries to identify innovative opportunities for our own. Emily Reed investigated, to all our fears, why marriages fail.

A brief interval saw the audience burst into conversation, inspired by the six word biographies they were wearing. The Belvoir Street front of house team were busy watering the thirsty audience and the staff from Wagamama negotiated the jammed foyer as best they could.

Christian Mushenko shared some everyday heroes with us all. Tim Noonan lived up to his reputation, delivering a daring, daunting and slightly saucy discussion about what it means to be the real you. Annalie Killian reminded us that change is the constant in our lives and was followed by Wade Millican who brought us to a central meditative space in the space of minutes. Zoe Horton brought tears to all our eyes as she stepped through the challenges and delicate joys of genetic counselling.

During the next interval we ran the brave Tereasa Trevor through Marlaina Read’s presentation on the History of Photography. Marlaina was unable to make it to Sydney to present, but she offered to send the slides, and in the spirit of open source, we called for a volunteer presenter. Tereasa stepped up to the challenge via an SMS to MC, Tim Longhurst.

On returning to the theatre, we were treated to Scott Portelli’s awesome images and video of swimming with whales off the coast of Tonga. And then keeping with the animal theme, Ian Johnston asked us whether animals think about what other animals think. Suzanne Dagseven gave an inspiring speech about finding your purpose and escaping the mundane everyday prisons of our own making. Tereasa delivered her own take on Marlaina’s presentation and then Stephen Collins explained exactly how Web 2.0 technologies can be used to make real change — in this case his daughter’s school board. Michael Lister stepped us through the intricacies and amusing challenges of bus route design. Russ Tucker introduced us to his Viral Waistcoat and all the people who have worn it (BUT it seems to have gone missing. If you know where it is, please let him know!).

I will put together some deeper thoughts on the presentations as time allows … but for those who were not able to attend in person, we will share videos and photos as they become available. Thanks to all who participated!