The Promiscuous Idea

CK, George & GregWhen Drew McLellan and I pulled together the first The Age of Conversation book with 100 of the world’s leading bloggers, social media was still a rough and ready frontier. Two more editions and three years later, many of us are still having the same conversations – partly because more businesses and more people are beginning to see value in the space, but also because innovation is like a spiral, folding back on itself in ever more complex ways.

With this in mind, I thought I’d publish here, my article from the first book – the Promiscuous Idea. To me, it still feels as relevant as it did in 2007. If you haven’t got a copy, consider buying one. It’s a great primer – and all the profits (still) go to a great cause.

The Promiscuous Idea

We are living in a time of proliferation. Never before has the marketplace of ideas been so free, the barriers to entry so low and the willingness to collaborate so powerful. In moments, a concept can be explained, shared and tracked on a single blog — on the other side of the world, this idea can be modified, expanded upon and discussed. Seconds pass and more voices are heard — a version transmutes into new forms … being picked up as a podcast, a video, an older-style presentation deck. From a single creative impulse, a legion of additions, modifications and transmutations can spread in minutes, hours, days and weeks.

Even months later an idea can come full circle. Someone, somewhere can stumble upon a “stale” idea, investing it with new energy, new context and a new perspective and the cycle of proliferation begins again. What this means is that our ideas are constantly in a process of reinvention.

What links an idea and draws us to it is the “story”. And the power and gravitational pull of the story brings us back to it time and again. In the Age of Conversation, whether we are marketers, activists, educators, politicians, academics or citizens of the world, we are all becoming the connected storytellers of this new era. This presents new challenges but also significant
opportunities for brands, consumers and communities.

We are now dealing with a different type of story. Where once we had a beginning, middle and end, as readers and storytellers we can fall into a story at any point. We can link into the middle of a raging debate or witness the genesis of an idea that can change the world, and the narrative that we
are dealing with is no longer linear but multi-textual, layered, overlapping and promiscuous. The ideas and stories care not for their creator but freely leap from one mind to the next — sometimes appearing simultaneously across the globe — with storytellers tapping into a powerful worldwide zeitgeist.

The new art of conversation relies not on a sense of ownership but on a willing openness on the part of storytellers of all kinds. In fact, the jealous storyteller may well find that “their” ideas, brands, concepts or other “intellectual property” will laughingly thumb its nose at its creator and walk off, hand-in-hand with the idea-next-door. Whether we like it or not, our brands, ideas and
stories are no longer our own … they are out there promiscuously reinventing themselves word by word.

Calling all Authors – It’s the Age of Conversation 3

Please come in.Back in 2007 it was a struggle to explain to people what “blogging” was all about. At dinner parties, people would grill me about blogging, about its relevance to business and about the weirdness of writing for a handful of readers. So when Drew McLellan and I decided to try and pull together 100 of the world’s most thoughtful and articulate marketers to share their experiences (both professional and individual) about blogging, we didn’t know what to expect. Could we REALLY turn it into a book?What would the content be like? How many people would actually DELIVER their chapters? How would the book be received?

Well, it’s over two years later. The book that we published, The Age of Conversation, spurned a follow-up edition, The Age of Conversation 2: Why Don’t They Get It. We grew the author base from 100 to 237. We were mentioned in the press and on blogs around the world, and even made the reading list for undergraduate marketing courses across the US. In the process, we raised well over $20,000 for charity (all proceeds from the first two books were donated to Variety the Children’s Charity).

Age of Conversation 2Much has changed in the last two years. New platforms, tools and approaches have been tried. Some remain, many have fallen by the wayside. Businesses, public and private organisations and Not For Profits of all shapes and sizes are dipping their toes into the conversational water; agencies and independent consultants are wading in (some taking the full body immersion option); and together – often in spite of our best practices and efforts – we are ALL learning that there is much more to “social media” and its impacts than we could have first imagined.

Sure there are some success stories, but we are a long way from consensus.

It is in this landscape that we are launching a call for authors for a NEW collaborative book – The Age of Conversation 3. The approach remains the same as the previous editions. Each author will be able to submit one 400 word article. To make sure the content is varied and to avoid repetition, we've created 10 section topics. Each author will select one topic and then direct the content of their submission accordingly. There will be a maximum of 30 authors per section.

The sections you can write for are:  

  1. Conversational Branding
  2. Influence
  3. Getting to Work
  4. Corporate Conversations
  5. Measurement
  6. In the Boardroom
  7. Pitching Social Media
  8. Innovation and Execution
  9. Identities, Friends and Trusted Strangers
  10. Conversation at the Coalface (If you work at the coalface, you deal with the real problems and issues, rather than sitting in a office discussing things in a detached way.)

As you have probably figured out, we are capping participation at a maximum of 300 authors. So if you want to join what has become a global publishing event, you will need to MOVE FAST. You can sign up HERE.

What’s in it for you?

Your contribution to The Age of Conversation places you in esteemed company. Many of our past collaborators are well known authors in their own right, are respected thought leaders in a range of fields (from marketing through NFP, within the enterprise, in education and as business leaders) or distinguish themselves as community leaders in other ways.

Your article will appear in what we think will be one of the must-read books of 2010. If you have not been published before, this is your chance to collaborate on a business book with a global audience. There will be link love (to your blog or website), there will be opportunities to raise your profile via podcast, interviews and even book readings – and you will be raising money for a worthwhile charity.

In return, you will be asked to sign an author release:

  1. The author release will bind you to promoting the book on your blog, Twitter and other social tools. If you cannot commit to helping us promote the book, please don’t ask to participate.
  2. You handover your rights to your article and in return we will donate all proceeds to charity.
  3. This time, we are going to let the authors vote on the charity that will receive the proceeds (with some help from Beth Kanter)
  4. You commit to submitting your entry by November 1, 2009.

Wait! Hasn’t it all been said already?

At the time of the first Age of Conversation, Todd Andrlik’s Power 150 list of social media and marketing blogs really only had 150 entries. These days, now under the auspices of Charlie Moran at Ad Age, the Power 150 boasts over 1000 entries. Not only are MORE blogs being created, more writers are emerging with unique perspectives and new insights. There has never been a better time to be part of this global conversation. What are you waiting for? SIGN UP HERE.

Books, Sex and Why Publishing Still Matters

I remember reading John Naisbitt’s Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives years ago and being struck by the concept of high tech/high touch. That is, the more high tech our lives became, the greater our demand for high touch elements. This could account for everything from office design through to the interest in gadgets, and surprisingly, books. And everywhere I looked I could see evidence.

Then, as eBooks began their steady march forward, there were many who suggested that the book publishing industry was on the brink of collapse. We now know this is not true – and that book publishing may well be in the healthiest shape that it has been in for decades. BookExpo America indicates that there were over 130,000 active publishers in 2008 – an increase of 27%. And virtually all this growth occurs in the small publisher category. Clearly it would take something seismic to destroy a $40.3 billion industry.

BookExpo America — Book Industry TRENDS 2009

View more presentations from bisg.

But despite the growth of blogs and other forms of social communication, books continue to hold a prominent position in our culture. Think about the recent conferences you have attended – how many of the keynote speakers are authors? Think about the way we still continue to revere books. Perhaps it is the lure of storytelling or something more primal. Bruce Temkin suggests that part of our biological makeup, fundamental to evolutionary success, is the way that stories transform our brain’s responses:

People relate to stories because it is part of their evolutionary makeup. Stories cause our mirror neurons to fire at similar experiences, helping us remember and relate.

In my own experience, as the author of The Dialup Guide to Blogging, and more notably, publisher and contributor to The Age of Conversation, extreme care is taken whenever a word is laid out in print. We take more care with words when they are perceived as more PERMANENT than the digital variety, and we pay more attention to their context when they are given physical presence. Yes, a potential employer may Google your name before an interview, but they may throw a quote back in your face. Words really can eat you.

But on the consumption side – as a reader – books are also becoming status symbols. Up until recently, our book collections or libraries signalled our own tastes, follies and predilections to a private audience – those who are invited into the inner sanctums of our homes. (I don’t know about you, but when I visit a friend’s house, I scour their bookshelves for insight and maybe even scandal.) These days, however, we wear our libraries as badges of social honour – with sites such as, Amazon and Shelfari bringing our reading list into the social networking space.

Nowadays, books are indicators of our conscious attention decisions – when we choose to read a book, we choose to immerse ourselves in its world and the imaginings of the author. Kyle Mitchell, agrees:

Reading a book on the NYC subway is the ultimate declaration of refusal to be distracted by anything around you

But books go beyond this too. When we read a book, we are making a statement to others as well as to ourselves. We invest in an unwritten contract where the rewards on offer can only be reached via our own commitment. As readers, we delay our gratification until the very last page. It’s like a slow dance with an uncertain ending. It’s like sex – or more precisely – like seduction.

There is much that marketers can learn from publishing in this regard. How do we capture the inbuilt Auchterlonie Effect provided by books (allowing others to tell their story about OUR story)? How do we mimetically reproduce that high tech/high touch aspect that is bound up in hundreds of years of publishing history? I think Jeremy Lebard, creator of points us in the right direction:

Reading provides a quiet solitude seldom found in our busy world. It invokes in me a quiet chamber of the mind that shuts out external distractions and focuses on the story at hand. From that quiet room I get the best view of the world no matter where I am. The view is like no other; I watch a story unfold through the eyes of the author. The author’s words become the script and I the producer and out springs a living breathing story within the walls of my imagination. I am forced to interpret that with which I am unfamiliar. Every story I read takes my imagination for a workout. Reading forces you to become a producer that even with the merest budget it takes to buy a book you can compete with the latest commercially produced multi-million dollar production. Don’t believe me? Just listen next time a book is turned into a movie. More often than not you’ll hear “It’s not as good as the book”.