Does Medium Matter?

When publishing platform Medium burst onto the internet a while back, it seemed like fresh life had been breathed into a stale medium (no pun intended). The integrated comments, sharing and community building capabilities were a fantastic way to turn the one-way, author-to-reader format on its head. And the limited release, invitation only availability drove demand for access superbly.

Medium also arrived at a time when LinkedIn’s publishing platform was growing in popularity. As a centre of gravity for business conversations and thought leadership, LinkedIn’s clunky Pulse technology could rely on its integrated access to YOUR business networks and news feeds, and seemed to grow on a daily basis. Using the same “influencer-led” strategy to launch, LinkedIn initially restricted access to the publishing platform, creating a clear distinction between those who had access and those who did not, but this was gradually relaxed, and the publishing platform began to open to others.

Yet as the “thought leadership” grew, so too did the clutter. LinkedIn attempted to categorise content to create a feed of relevancy as did Medium. It reminded me a little of the proliferation of blogs a few years back – resulting in an explosion of content and comment. But there is a clear difference. All this content are building OTHER PEOPLE’S networks. And those networks are picking winners – based on a few random elements (also known as algorithms).

In this experiment on Medium, Henry Wismayer, shows not only the new challenge of surfacing “new” voices on these new platforms, he also suggests that there has to be a deeper alignment. That the algorithm is not value free, but self-referential and self-reinforcing. You are either part of the game or you are well out of it:

The ease with which Triumvirate articles — even depressingly hollow ones — accrue views and Recommends provides an irresistible incentive for other people to follow the formula. As a result, Medium risks becoming a click-bait factory, a lame production line pumping out articles around the same limited themes.

And the point is that this is all a game. And can be gamed.

The core factor here is trust. Who do we trust and why?

In a time poor world, we increasingly rely on technology to filter the signal from the noise. But increasingly, there is a blandness to the experience of the “world wide web”. It’s no longer worldly nor wide.

And this is where the true opportunity lies. Medium has become, for me at least, a vast, shallow sea of thinly veiled opinion masquerading as insight. It’s not offering the richness it promised in the early days. In many ways, it’s the distinction that Alana Fisher calls out between subject matter expertise and thought leadership.

And the same is true for LinkedIn. Will either of these platforms matter in 2017? Perhaps they are simply on the path to inevitable disruption. Perhaps it’s not that Medium doesn’t matter, but that media itself is under threat. Now, that’s an interesting thought.

Don’t Bore Your Audience: Use the Pixar Pitch

When I studied literature, I was fascinated by form. By the words. Arrangement. Layout. And narrative. I loved the way that John Fowles would create untrustworthy narrators that led the story in new, unexpected directions. And I loved Antonin Artaud’s dangerous writings. Or Christopher Barnett’s language that was so revolutionary it broke the words. I was intrigued and excited by writing that would break the language and our expectations and then reconstruct things completely new. It was a disruption to thought and expectation and it blew my mind.

But the best of these writers were not rampant destroyers of meaning. They were articulate explorers pushing the limits of language and the implicit bargain that writers make with their readers. Sometimes it would work and take us – together – on new journeys. And sometimes I’d throw the book against the wall and leave it to make its own way back to the shelf. The thing is, that the best of these writers were masters of their craft – and they’d work very deliberately to take us as readers on a journey – it just so happened that the by-product of that journey would be some form of collision or catastrophe of language. And in that way, the product of the writing was not the book – but the experience. Of reading. Co-creating meaning. Disruption.

So when I attend a conference, view a video or see a presentation, I look for something that is going to set my heart ablaze and send my mind wheeling. I wonder where I will be taken or how I will be surprised. And more often than not, I am disappointed.

There is no narrative. No journey to follow and become involved with. It’s just facts. Numbers. And opportunities for micro-naps.

It’s a slow death being hammered by statistics.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Dan Pink’s book, To Sell is Human, explains the formula deployed to great success by Pixar. It goes something like this:

Once upon a time <something happened>.

Every day <life went on like this>.

One day <something changed>.

Because of that <the world was never the same again>.

Until finally <a new world became the next chapter>.

Now, I am not going to say that this formula will change your world. Nor that each presentation needs to be a masterpiece.

But if your job is communication (and if it’s not, why are you presenting?), then do your audience a favour and wheel out the Pixar Pitch. You might just be amazed at the impact it has.

It’s Not Charity: It’s Social Enterprise-investing in the future

When I give money to charity, I look closely at the aims of the organisation. I listen to the story and look for the downstream impact. And I look at the finances. I am keen to know how much of the money that is donated goes to programs and how much goes to administration.

Over the years my giving has changed. I noticed that I became more focused on this programs/administration split. I would stop supporting organisations as the admin component grew. In frustration, I eventually shifted my entire focus away from larger organisations to Kiva and to Vibewire – a youth arts and media not-for-profit. Through Kiva I have funded almost 100 loans now and continuously roll them over – I see them less as charity and more as social enterprise. In fact, that is what they are.

The same can be said for Vibewire which is entirely focused on providing a launchpad for young change makers.

But through my work with Vibewire, where I also serve as President, I have also learned about the need for administrative – or core – funding. Sure it is important to support programs and to impact individuals, but not-for-profits run on passion, enthusiasm and commitment. The money simply keeps the doors open. In general, NFPs stretch every last cent out of their available funds. On the surface, this is great. But in doing so, they find themselves with very little capacity to innovate.

As a result, the impact of change is more like a ripple than a tidal wave.

And yet, when we give to charity, we want and EXPECT to see that massive, transformational change. As Dan Palotta explains in the video below, charities are rewarded for how little they spend, rather than on the results that they achieve. Surely this should be the other way around.

So next time you are giving to charity, think about your actions and expectations. What happens when you think of your giving not as a GIFT but as an INVESTMENT in the future?

That’s the way I think of Vibewire (which is easier since it works specifically with young people). See what happens when you change the way you think about charity. What impact do you want to see and how can you make it happen – beyond the transaction of donating/giving? Take an additional step. Contribute skills. Expertise. Get involved. After all, it’s your future too.

Should You Work for Free

Almost everyone I know has been asked to work for free at some stage in their career. The question may have come from:

  • A family member: perhaps your parents need help with their computer. Maybe your brother needs a website or some graphic design help. Perhaps your sister wants to shoot and edit a video for school. We’ve all been there
  • A not-for-profit: they do great work but need help from someone with your expertise
  • A startup: cool entrepreneurs bootstrapping their business need a lot of help. Maybe you know something that could help
  • A business: maybe things are not going so well, but with your help they could get through a recent dry spell. Perhaps there’s an opportunity for paid work down the track

It’s great to help people, but where do you draw the line? Are you in business for your self or are you giving your hard won expertise away for free? This great chart by Jessica Hische provides some handy questions that you should ask yourself before saying “yes” to your next free gig.


Trend: I’m Fricken Michaelangelo

I’m overwhelmed by the sheer number of trend announcements and insights for 2013 that are circulating the web at the moment. It seems that we have an abundance of opinion yet live in the desert of insight.

Almost everyone says the same thing in a different way. Or with a quirky direction. Almost always there is an angle that reflects positively on the writer’s own work or business.

Now, there is nothing wrong with all this. In fact, I am working on my own trends document which I am sure you will gasp and coo about. But it’s not trends that we are talking about really. It’s marketing. We are spruiking our opinions based on an understanding of our markets and our business ecosystems.

It’s not rocket science (unless you are writing about trends in space exploration) but it is hard work. It requires effort, time to think and an ability to articulate a point of view.

And while there are many shifts and changes in our business landscape on their way. There is one that is paramount. I’m fricken Michaelangelo.

We all have opinions and share them for the “5 likes” that they are worth. Just watch this video from College Humor and you will observe all the trends that are taking place in front of our very eyes. Scary but true.

Dude to Dude – Bullying and Harassment is Not OK

The internet can be a messy, chaotic and unpredictable place. You can see some of the best and some of the worst of humanity on display … with the implicit understanding that we are all free to express our opinions.

Over time, many of us create personas through which we air our views and opinions. For example, I tweet using @servantofchaos but also use @gavinheaton – which has a different focus and audience. The ease with which we can setup these accounts often provides people with a false sense of anonymity.

But what happens when you witness bad or bullying behaviour? Do you say something, write, call it out or step back into the shadows of the social web?

I have always believed that to witness and NOT raise your voice in protest gives a silent nod to the behaviour you are witnessing. This sometimes makes for confrontation but often also leads to unimagined change. But whatever the outcome, speaking up at least gives permission for others to take your part or express their own uncertainties or fears – and that can only be a good thing.

Because the thing is … this is NOT just ONLINE. The technology is just another mask – and behind that screen is a real person.

Katie Chatfield shares a great video that provides some leadership. Jay Smooth’s Ill Doctrine blog is a treasure trove of in-your-face commentary on the nature of politics and masculinity. Here he talks about the appalling situation that confronted Anita Sarkeesian while running a Kickstarter project – finding herself the subject of a concerted and vitriolic sexist attack.

What I love about the video is that he addresses men specifically. One of my favourite lines (towards the end) is:

“No matter what scene on the internet is your scene, if you are a dude on the internet and you see other dudes in your scene harassing women or transgender people or anyone else who is outside of our little privileged corner of the gender spectrum, we need to speak up. We need to treat this like it matters. We need to add humanity into our scene to counteract their detachment from their humanity.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Take a few minutes to watch this clip – and then think about your scene – work, home, politics, sport, online and off. Find ONE way to add humanity into your scene and you will make this world a better place.

Feeling Sick and Tired?

I don’t know about you – but 2011 has been a stretch. Exciting, challenging – even a little fun – but still a stretch. A lot has been accomplished, but we’re still a month out from the end of the year.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at this time of year – to be able to see that the end is in sight, but the finish line is beyond our grasp. And this can add to the year-end desperation – and in some cases, even lead to depression (if you feel this way, you may just need The Perfect Gift for a Man). One way to combat this is to take a quick look in the rear vision mirror and just assess your personal and professional achievements. There will be many things to be proud of – some small and some more significant. These all count and should be given their due.

So what are you most proud of? What worked? When I look back on the last year or so, I can see some significant personal and professional achievements:

  • I spoke on digital and social media strategy at the GE Leadership Workshop – a challenging and intense hour or so with GE’s emerging global leaders
  • The focus on public speaking continued through the year – and I found myself in front of large and small audiences at a range of Australian and international events, including the Macquarie Graduate School of Management’s Open Innovation Series, Australasian Sourcing Summit, Marketing Week, ADMA Forum, and Social Media Plus
  • I contributed a chapter to a book (in German) on the work that I have been doing with SAP’s Premier Customer Network. Social Intranet: Kommunikation fördern – Wissen teilen – Effizient zusammenarbeiten is available on Amazon – and it was nice to write rather edit and publish for a change!
  • My team and I launched, iterated, redesigned and began promoting PCN Connect – the closed community platform that connects SAP’s most strategic global customers. And now we’re continuing to roll it out beyond North America
  • My work, as President of Vibewire – a youth focused non-profit dedicated to ensuring young people participate in the important conversations of our time – continues to yield fruit. This year we made significant progress on the governance and capacity building fronts, held 10 live fastBREAK events featuring over 50 of Australia’s emerging innovators at the Powerhouse Museum, produced a book of creative works for and by the Vibewire community and provided over 20,000 hours of experience for young people starting their professional and creative careers
  • Coffeemornings – the regular Friday get together in Sydney for anyone and everyone keen to discuss ideas, culture, society with a bit of marketing and technology thrown into the mix – has now been going continuously for six years. Quite a milestone!
  • My fitness continued to improve, peaking in October, when I cycled over 330km in the month – burning over 8200 calories. I still have some way to go to “feel fit”, but there have been definite improvements

There have been plenty of other highlights – spending time with friends and family, travelling and learning new things, meeting new people and so on. In many ways I have been amazingly fortunate – and the hard work seems to be paying off. But I am looking forward to a break over Christmas and New Year.

What about you? Still ramping up towards year end? Has it been a break or breakthrough year for you?

Are Australian Businesses Bereft of Imagination?

Over the last couple of weeks I have watched the growth and spread of the #occupy movement – from the financial district of New York City to the streets of Sydney and Melbourne. This dishevelled and ramshackle mob seem to have touched a nerve. There’s a deep insecurity that is triggering a disproportionate response from Australian businesses, business people, politicians of all shapes and sizes and everyday individuals. Clearly we like our round pegs round.

And in almost the same timeframe I have been amazed at the way an Australian icon brand like Qantas has chosen to wilfully trash over 90 years of brand equity, focusing on the square peg problems of its unions, leaving thousands of its customers stranded across the world without a word of warning.

In a way, these problems have the same root cause – a chronic lack of imagination – something that has plagued our business sector for decades. Just look at the product launches of new “innovations” which are pale imitations of things that have been available overseas for years. Look at the way our industry leaders doggedly defend their oligopolies and market share, taking competitors to court and lobbying government for subsidies, tax reductions and bailout guarantees – and then complain when customers fed up with poor service, take their brand loyalty (and their wallets) and shop elsewhere.

When you have a square peg, a round hole and a hammer – well, you know it’s going to be used.

And I think – think – being the operative word – that this is the real promise of the #occupy movement. #Occupy is a challenge that is being thrown down to the big problems of our time – and it seems that we have no capacity to creatively respond to it. It’s disappointing.

By comparison – take a look at what Starbucks is doing in the US with its Create Jobs for USA campaign. They are teaming up with community lending institutions to provide financing to community businesses – and throwing in the first $5 million. Individuals can donate too – and receive a wristband with the poetic inscription indivisible.

And then take a look how this word has spurned a movement – a Twitter hashtag backed up by individual stories, crowdsourced support and community impact. David Armano talks a little about it here. A problem (and it is a shared problem) is identified, a business engages creatively – and as a business ecosystem – and the community steps in and supports it.

Now imagine if someone – anyone – over at Qantas had considered its communities of loyal travellers. Imagine if an idea had been sparked around these big problems – and that some action had been taken – not to amplify the problem, but to generate a solution.

You see, David Armano is right. Whether we like it or not, we are indivisible. We are linked irrevocably to the problems and challenges of others. So rather than ignoring them, it’s about time we #occupied our imagination and got to work on the challenges ahead of us all.

Would You #OccupyBondStreet in Support of #OccupyWallStreet?

With almost every breath we make decisions. About what to write and what to read. What to believe and what to discard. We follow our “hearts” but vote for political parties who work against our beliefs yet satisfy our materialistic aspirations.

The Occupy Wall Street protests continue to focus ever greater attention on inequality, corruption and greed.It’s a leaderless resistance movement that has spread slowly, but consistently from its base in New York across the US.

But I wonder.

It’s clear that We Are the 99% (after all, how many of the 1% read blogs, tweet or engage with the randomness of humanity that is Twitter?). But what does it take to shift from global recognition to local action? What would it take, from each of us, to go from affinity to sit-in? And more specifically, what are your personal boundaries and what happens when they meet your professional (or even moral) foundations?

I wonder would I (and could you):

Spend a night in the company of uncomfortable strangers under the lost stars
   of city streets
Or move beyond the words of a tweet, a post, an anxious tear?
Is there a place I would stand in, sit in, squat in in protest
    at the injustice of a world that validates me

Or does it all just seem too hard to bear?

Could I, would I, link arms with those battered by the inequities of time, place,
   education and happenstance
Or could I, would I, find my grain of truth
   that tastes like yours and smells so sweet?

Would I go so far as to find the words that change the course of time,
   that shake, endanger, explode our futures
Or do I fold my white knuckles in against themselves
Breathing stale air and broken promises?

How do we know the sound of history calling?
   And how is your call different to mine?
We answer only to the beats of our own hearts
   Counting. Changing. Stepping in time.

But in the cold, freshness of spring mornings
   it’s not a question of passion.

It’s knowing that your lone voice will be carried in the echoes
   of others. Dispossessed and connected. Dissatisfied yet free.

Or perhaps it’s none of these pungent vagaries.

Perhaps, at day’s end, it’s about doing what we must but also what we can.

So would you? Could you?

Or could you not?


Images: Courtesy PaulS

#londonriots and the Shadow of Shame

Like many of you I am saddened, angered, disappointed and exasperated by the riots spreading across London. And while it’s easy to point the finger at the rioters, I’d like to pause for a moment, take a breath and reflect on these events (given that in Australia we have the luxury and space to do so).

Now I in no way condone the violence that is taking place. But it is important to point out that these type of events occur when populations are disenfranchised, when disadvantage is baked into the institutions that make up our society, and when access to opportunity, to a future worth living, is limited by where you were born and where you went to school.

Earlier this year, we saw protests across the Middle East occur almost spontaneously. Obama’s Arab Spring was seen as a cause for celebration – with protesters organising, communicating and rallying support through social media – bringing to the West, a deeper understanding of social and civil issues facing the people of countries from Tunisia and Egypt to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

But in the #londonriots some of these techniques are being used not to build momentum and to create a movement for change. It’s not a civil problem nor an issue of democracy. It’s a social problem and its emotional resonance strikes us deeply, because at its heart is a great yawning emptiness that we also helped to create.


The woman in this video says, “we’re not fighting for a cause” – and she is right. Decades of social, political and cultural neglect reinforced and amplified by the divisiveness of dog whistle politics has led to this point. As Laurie Penny explains:

The people running Britain had absolutely no clue how desperate things had become. They thought that they could take away the last little things that gave people hope, the benefits, the jobs, the possibility of higher education, the support structures, and nothing would happen. They were wrong. And now my city is burning …

It’s a terrible situation.

But we’re also seeing the same thing here in Australia. We’re following the same path. Rather than leadership on big, moral and social issues such as racism, asylum seekers, access to opportunity and education, and yes, even climate change, we see minute focus on what our politicians believe they can get away with. It’s the bare minimum in terms of social policy.

And when you reach for the bare minimum rather than trying to constantly raise the bar, as a society you are on a slippery slope. You end up with outcomes that you deserve rather than outcomes that you would hope for. As Laurie also says:

Now is the time when we make our choices. Now is the time when we decide whether to descend into hate, or to put prejudice aside and work together. Now is the time when we decide what sort of country it is that we want to live in.

The same applies here. The same applies in the US. It’s time for us all to step out of the shadow of shame.