Apocalypse Forever

Fictitious Peruvian Chachapoyen Fertility Idol

If the face of this idol looks familiar, it’s because you saw it carried by Indian Jones as he raced a giant boulder out of some ancient South American ruins. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, the movie, it is a Peruvian Chachapoyan Fertility Idol. In reality, it is a plastic piggy bank that my son got for Christmas. Both the fiction and the fact are inspired by Mayan art.

The Mayans are famous for a lot of things (like corn and human sacrifice) but they are more recently known for predicting the end of the world as we know it. At least that’s what the media loves to focus on because the Mayan Long Count Calendar ends on December 21st, 2012. Instead of wondering if the Mayan’s just got sick of chiseling their complicated glyphs into stone, many people believe the end of the calendar actually means the end of the world. Somehow, there is a magical, literal connection between the two. The calendar, and the world, will simply come to an abrupt and violent end. It might be from global warming. It might be from a giant comet strike. It might be from an axis-shift that causes annihilating tsunamis and earthquakes and volcanos. Bang, bang, we’re dead.

I’m not very worried. If you look at the statistics, apocalyptic predictions have an appalling record. They are “oh-for-everything”. In other words, their ratio of wins to losses is pathetic. The end of the world still hasn’t happened. Take a look around. Yet as human beings, we crave these self-destructive scenarios. Our myths and imaginations are full of them, rational or not. It’s as if we want a chance to start over the hard way, where the choice is no longer our own. It’s as if we’d rather be stricken by cancer and fight through chemo and battle our way to remission to learn how to eat right and get moderate exercise. We would rather wipe the slate clean and have to start over than make incremental changes. Forget Indiana Jones. We want Independence Day, I Am Legend, Terminator, Planet of the Apes, War of the Worlds.

Reality is a lot harder than myth. You have to do things that you don’t want to do. And it’s often repetitive and boring. If you want to be a writer, you actually have to write, preferably every day. But the world doesn’t have to end for you to do this. Make one small change, build a new routine, and in a year you’ll see that you’ve come pretty far. In another few years, perhaps you’ll have an amazing book. And everyone will think it came out of nowhere.

In most biographies, writers skip over all the mundane, repetitive, hard stuff. They focus on the ‘main events’ and short cut to the accomplishments instead of slogging through all the work. They pry out the best practices, point out the results, and consider the rest chaff. I’m saying, focus on the chaff and someone might actually write a biography about you one day.

The Mayan cycle of 5125 years ends this year. Perhaps it means we get to start over the hard way. Or perhaps it’s a great excuse to reflect on what we’d like to change. And if it doesn’t happen? Well, Sir Isaac Newton, famous occultist and the ‘discoverer’ of gravity, said we all have at least until 2060 before things REALLY start to reach biblical proportions.

Photos taken by iPhone 4 + Hipstomatic by Jason Theodor 2012, all rights reserved.

Awakening And Unconscious Data

Consciousness is taken for granted. We exist. We do stuff. But self-reflection, self-awareness, doesn’t come into play until you have a crisis that forces you to hit pause and reflect.

This holiday break my entire family has been sick. I spent eighteen hours unable to do anything except violently purge liquid. I was completely at the mercy of my physical body’s convulsions, and it was devastating to the mind and spirit that just wanted to ‘take a break’. Watching my children get sick was another example of being aware, but not being in control. At some point, I realized that fighting for control was exactly the wrong thing. I needed to surrender. I needed to be at the mercy of my current reality until it abided. I needed to go with the flow until the current was calm enough for me to start directing it again.

Being a creative director by trade, this type of surrender is difficult for me. I naturally want to fight it, I want to solve it, I want to figure it all out. At first I believed that the right combination of over-the-counter medications, gingerale, and sleep would make it all go away. But as I am not a doctor by trade, and as NO ONE HAS SUCCESSFULLY CURED THE COMMON COLD OR FLU, I failed.

As I was suffering, from physical exhaustion, from lack of sleep, from a no-liquids-no-solids diet, from random shivers and convulsions, I realized I was recording my body’s trauma with my new christmas gadget: a bracelet that is part pedometer and part sleep monitor. I was making the unconscious conscious, the unknowable knowable. If I couldn’t control my situation, at least I could record it in higher resolution and look at the data.

Here I learned that during the night that I was really sick, I spent almost three hours in the bathroom, and my sleep was disrupted on seven or eight occasions.

The next night, during my recovery, I slept for almost nine and a half hours without waking up once. I also remembered a lot of dreams in the morning.

The following night my son got sick, and I was woken up four times. The first time to clean up, and the rest of the times to help him get to the bathroom and get back to sleep. I had no idea that it cut a full three hours out of my night.

So what did I learn? Not much yet. Mostly that my sleeping patterns are disrupted. But I also learned that I want to learn more. All this personal data is interesting. But most interesting is just looking at it and knowing that an overall pattern for the YEAR will emerge. I’ll be able to see the unseeable. I’ll be able to view the unconscious. And like bio-feedback, once I can see the unseeable I’ll be able to change it. Not control it, but consciously affect change on a slower, larger scale. The future is full of data.

Note: All data captured with a Jawbone UP & iPhone 4.

From Chasm to Convergence

note: this post was co-created with johnathan bonnell

Any color you want–as long as it’s black

Henry Ford, the enigmatic father of mass production, once said, “[A] customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” This was the predominant sentiment among businesses in the early 1900s as assembly-line manufacturing emerged. Consumers accepted this one-size-fits-all mentality at first, because they could now afford things that had once been beyond their financial reach.

As consumers grew accustomed to this new normal, they began to express their opinions and reactions to these new products. “The ride is too bumpy,” or “The black seats are too hot,” were common complaints. But companies were very limited by their own manufacturing processes and had difficulty responding. They also weren’t used to the mentality of being told what to do. Companies were very comfortable with a top down approach, where they dictated consumer needs, take it or leave it. But the next one-hundred years would turn that attitude on its head.


If you don’t choose, you lose

Over time, the voice of the consumer was strengthened by easier and faster methods of communication. Manufacturing was evolving at a similar rate, creating ever more efficient and flexible processes. Competition began to emerge in every market, and to differentiate themselves from similar products companies began to offer the consumer something that had never been offered before: choice. And once they got used to having choices, there was no going back to just ‘black’.

Throughout the twentieth century, technology continued to close the gap between consumer feedback and product offerings. As communication methods improved, companies developed more advanced methods of soliciting, gathering and interpreting feedback. The one-size-fits-all attitude gave way to diversification and saw the rise of limited variety (like avocado stovetops). Companies were learning the basic demographics and honing their target markets. Competition drove innovation, which drove more consumer choice.

This feedback loop continued to tighten. Manufacturing got cheaper and more efficient, communication got faster and more aggregated, and companies now began to take note of psychographics. This led to the age of the brand. Consumer targets became fragmented, and products were offered to every perceived niche. Now instead of just tennis shoes, there were shoes for every sport imaginable. Email sped up the process of giving and collecting feedback. It was so much easier and faster to click ‘send’ than to lick a stamp and walk to the mailbox.

Complete control was still in the hands of the companies. The makers of these products chose who to listen to, and what to do about it. They made choices about how to present their brands and products, often based on more and more sophisticated consumer information.


Top down meets bottom up

As the World Wide Web came on the scene, companies like Nike experimented with more advanced customization. “Tell us what you want, and we’ll give you more choices,” they said. Why would anyone continue to go to Footlocker for conventional shoes when they could customize the laces, color, tongue, pattern, sole, and bottoms on the website, have their own shoe name embroidered on the side, and then have them shipped to their door? Once customers had been given the wheel, they wanted to drive. The tipping point had been reached: customers began to think of brands as something they owned. The century-old top down approach of the manufacturer was being challenged from the bottom up, by an ever-empowered group of consumers.

With convergence has come new opportunity: co-creation

Today the empowered consumer now enjoys a fast growing ecosystem of digital channels\infrastructure to tag, share, converse, signal, and read, and to do so with friends, family, people they hardly know and brands. At the same time, producers of products now have the flexibility to involve these consumers more deeply in the product ideation and creation process than ever before. The chasm between consumer feedback and product offerings has virtually been erased, and this convergence has created a new opportunity in co-creation: companies and consumers working together to co-create products, services, or improve upon an experience. We’ve found and believe that this co-creation can be consumer-led (where the consumer is deeply involved in almost the entire product creation process, a de-facto member of the product & marketing team) or brand-led (the direct involvement of the consumer ends with providing a new idea or suggesting an improvement).

For producers and brands, the type of co-creation they pursue depends on the level of risk they want to take on. Consumer-led has more risk because you are directly involving consumers in ideation, prototyping, testing, and creating alongside your own team. But the potential rewards of developing a successful product are much higher. P&G’s Connect + Develop program and Lego’s Mindstorm project are examples of consumer led initiatives.  Brand-led co-creation has less risk because consumers are not actually involved in the product creation beyond providing insights and ideas. But the potential rewards in developing a successful product are lower. Dell’s Idea Storm and My Starbucks Idea are examples of brand-led initiatives.

Why care about co-creation: ideas, free, and market leaders
1. There’s no shortage of ideas: co-creating provides a new avenue for consumers to share their ideas, and a new “idea stream” for producers to tap into. It can also serve as a live testing ground for ideas that come from within a company’s walls. Dell’s Idea Storm has received nearly 12,000 posted ideas and implemented 350, while P&G’s connect & develop program has influenced over 35% of their new products in market.

2. It’s in the “free”: People are using their personal time to interact with a brand, to have discussions with like-minded consumers about a brand, and the companies are only paying for the venue. In addition to the tremendous volume of ideas being submitted, the amount of discussion taking place within idea streams is just as large. In both of these scenarios, consumers are choosing to spend their own personal time interacting with a brand, and companies don’t have to spend millions on advertising to distract someone for (hopefully) 30 seconds of their attention. Some My Starbucks Ideas have received over 1000 comments and their site has had over 2 million visitors since November 2008.

3. Co-creation could lead to market leaders: Johann Fueller and Eric Von Hippel, from the MIT Sloan School of Management, recently put out a report titled Costless Creation of Strong Brands by User Communities: Implications for Producer-Owned Brands. Their focus was to understand the emergence of community brands (a group of people who share similar passions and form a group identity, logo and brand name to symbolize this common bond) and their impact on traditional commercial brands. Near the tail end of their study they posed a very important question “Are community brands and commercial brands antagonists or complements?” and then showed us the results from a hypothetical choice experiment: 78.2% of respondents preferred a co-developed and co-branded product. This blew any singularly produced manufacturer brand (15% preference) or community brand (1.9%) out of the water. The study showed that a community brand contributed authenticity, identity and high-use expertise which was complemented well by a commercial brand’s strong product development and production capabilities. Consumers and brands could potentially co-produce and co-brand a product that has significant market potential.

If you are going to co-create: here are some initial thoughts:


Projecting a thought – can the future be co-owned?
With customers already beginning to think of brands as something they “own” and with more companies employing a form of co-creation for product development, is it really off base to assume a form of co-ownership (vested interest in the final product by both the brand and consumer) in the future? From what we are seeing take place already, we think it’s entirely possible. Companies like Apple and Best Buy are seeing the benefits in a form of co-ownership. Apple’s SDK for developers to create iPhone applications and using iTunes as a marketplace to market and sell these items is an example of how co-ownership could play out.
We work in volatility and with a digital infrastructure that is only continuing to grow in size and importance. Co-creation exists as an opportunity today; co-ownership is a potential outcome for tomorrow.

Co-created by Jason Theodor (@jted) and Johnathan Bonnell (@digitalinfant)

*Please note that our timeline of product creation is not meant to be historically accurate, but a general reflection of our observations.
*Those whose work/thoughts influenced us in the creation of this report:
Matt Rhodes’s brilliant thoughts on co-creation
JP Rangaswami’s ideas in faster horses in the age of co-creation
Johann Fueller and Eric Von Hippel for their excellent work and (public) report
Matt Milan’s thoughts on consumer product use in the future (@mmilan)
And Henry Ford for giving us the Model T and mass production

Originally Published for Critical Mass as From Chasm to Convergence: Technology Closes the Gap Between Manufacturers and Consumers Part 1 & 2 on Experience Matters

You Don’t Need To Be More Creative. You Need To Finish Your Ideas.

Seth Godin talks at Behance’s 99% conference about “Quieting the Lizard Brain,” that vestige of evolution which creates our ‘fight or flight’ response. When we get close to finishing a project, we panic and run away from it. We’re afraid of criticism, afraid of changes, afraid of failure. We need to overcome this resistance early by ‘thrashing’ in the first stages of our work, and then powering through to the very end. As the 99% conference states, “It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen.”

Posted via web from Jason Theodor’s 1%

Human Field of View

The human visual system has a field of view of around 135 x 200 degrees, but a typical compact camera has a field of view of only 35 x 50 degrees.

How much information are we MISSING by viewing/capturing everything on our digital devices? When I filmed my son’s preschool graduation ceremony I felt like I wasn’t even there, that I watched it all on a 3″ screen instead. When Barack Obama was inaugurated, I noticed that his youngest oldest daughter Sasha Malia never lifted her eyes from the back of her point-and-shoot camera (Kodak EasyShare M893). We are editing out our peripheral experiences.

The quote at the top of this post comes from an application site that many of my friends (like @drelabre) are trying out on their iPhones: AutoStitch. It won’t replace the human visual system, but it might give us more to remember.

Posted via web from Jason Theodor’s 1%