PPPPlaying to the Crowd (Four P's #178)
Messes, Improvisation, DAOmocracy & Thoughtful Leadership.
Two weeks into the new year… how are everyone's New Year's resolutions holding up? Personally, I've made good on my commitment to write less (and, therefore, more impactfully). I had thought about downsizing to write one rotating P per week, but decided that was too far off-brand. So instead, it's been Four P's every other week. Did you miss me last week? Did you even notice?
So in keeping with the mission, no wordy introductions and lead-ups here.
Instead, let's just get right to the point(s).
SOMETHING PRACTICAL: Messing With the Mess
The word “mess” conjures up different images for different people. Whether a literal or figurative mess, getting into them is probably not on the top of your wish list. Nor mine. I've never been comfortable with physical messes or sloppiness, and revile all sorts of disorder. My wife likes to tell people she knew we were going to get married the first time she opened up my desk drawers and saw all of my pencils lined up in the same direction.
This has always been the case. As a child, when friends would come to my house and play with toys in my basement, I would start putting things away while they were still playing. I still do the same thing when my in-laws come for dinner, clearing their plates in the dishwasher before they're finished eating. I can't stand a single file on my computer not in the right folder. A newspaper mistakenly ending up in the plastic recycling bin rankles my chains. I cannot go to bed with a full kitchen sink. My email inbox is color-coded and meticulously labeled. Seeing my kids' toys all over the playroom floor elevates my blood pressure.
But there are different kinds of messes, and while I will NEVER tolerate dirt or spills of any kind, I've made a conscious effort over the past few months to e̶m̶b̶r̶a̶c̶e̶ tolerate certain types of messes. Some messes boost creativity, while overly structured schedules or plans can inhibit innovation. Disruptions force us to find new, untested approaches. After all, as long as our habits and routines are functional, there’s no need to alter them. Novel, far-superior practices are usually discovered in periods of disruption.
A recent study by Shelley Carson confirmed the connection between distractibility and creativity. The study tested a group of students who had each accomplished some creative feat like publishing a novel or releasing an album. In the tests, 22 out of the 25 super-creative participants were found to be easily distracted by seemingly irrelevant details.
Working from home these past 679 days (who's counting?) has certainly disrupted my ordered ways of working, and fostered more independent thought. Collaborating in groups has its advantages, but after a while, people in closely-knit teams will find their views converging. Conversely, opinions held in a network of weak personal connections are more diverse. This is due to "the strength of weak ties" concept, first introduced by sociologist Mark Granovetter in 1973. People in a network of weak ties are exposed to a broader range of ideas, and they’re also more likely to have their own ideas challenged.
Order can also be enhanced by automated systems, tools and processes. They reduce the likelihood of messes. But one consequence is that we humans are becoming less skilled. There are many situations that we no longer need to handle ourselves, which is why we can’t manage them when we actually need to. Human error is actually MORE likely when we become overly dependent on tools and technology. I deliberately make Fridays an “empty calendar day,” thus helping me to stay flexible and productive. So that's my plan: embrace messiness, manage my obsession with order, turn off more notifications, and leave more time for creativity.
*And just for fun, I'll schedule myself a reminder to check back in and let you know how it's going again in a few weeks.
SOMETHING PERSONAL: The Art of Improvisation
One of the ways I've been able to avoid big messes is preparation. Anticipating outcomes, scenario planning, and even scripting out talking points for various situations. A mentor of mine once called this "healthy paranoia." It only becomes unhealthy when you try to prepare for everything. The ability to react and adapt is just as important
Improvisation is an invaluable skill. And while some assume improvisation and preparation are antonyms, the two work quite well together in a positive feedback loop. Preparation makes improvisation better. And learning from improvised experiences makes future preparation better.
Last week, Netflix announced the production of a new show called Murderville, starring Will Arnett as Senior Detective Terry Seattle (debut: Feb 3). In each episode, Arnett's character is joined by a different celebrity guest star as his "trainee" partner to solve a murder. Except that the guest stars aren’t given a script, and as they assist Terry clue by clue, they have to improvise their way through the case. I can't wait.
Improvisation is one of my favorite comedic sub-genres. It is a wonderful mix of both art and science, and one reason why I struggle to stay quiet in work meets and zoom calls. Seeing an unexpected opportunity for humor is more irresistible to me than leftover pizza or birthday cake. But it has use cases far beyond humor. While occasionally risky, daring to improvise can give you a serious competitive advantage.
In reading many of the wonderful articles and stories about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this week, I found myself in awe of how we blended preparation and improvisation so wonderfully. In 1955, when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat for a white passenger, King rushed to her aid with little time to prepare. He quickly organized a protest and improvised a speech, leveraging previously used nuggets from past speeches and sermons, but he wove them together in a new way at the right time. The result was a huge success.
During the March on Washington in 1963, Dr. King had labored over his remarks and was prepared to deliver a decent, yet uninspiring speech. Instead, he opted for an improvised, unpredictable presentation to the audience. It remains one of the greatest speeches in history. Similarly, improvisation in jazz requires years of training and practice, but is so wonderfully different once new elements come together. The same goes for soccer, chess, acting, even firefighting. Having a variety of tools on which to rely as situations unfold is truly masterful.
Of course, there's a flipside... One of the reasons Donald Trump was so successful in connecting with audiences were his improvised speeches to gullible morons. But it was different, and to many, refreshing. And he was able to triumph against more scripted opponents in debates because of his rapid-fire, headline-making Twitter responses that no one could expect. While it made for an entertaining campaign approach, it was actually a terrible model for diplomatic and executive power. So the key lesson here... freedom within a framework and a healthy respect for where the "line" of appropriate behavior is at all times.
SOMETHING POLITICAL: Building a New DAOmocracy
The willingness (or willfulness) to go off-script is one of the reasons why candidate Trump was successful back in 2016, and nearly again in 2020. But another was his willingness to try different, direct ways to raise campaign funds and solicit contributions from many different types of people rich, poor and in between.
Campaign finance is a massive problem in American politics. Legacy institutions and processes have built a system so broken that many fear is beyond repair. But what if there is a different way? New ideas occasionally pop up. Candidates who refuse to take money from corporations and lobbyists stand on principle, occasionally win, but often get drowned out by the noise that millions of dollars in media spend can generate. 2022 is predicted to be a blood bath for the Democratic Party, from the top down. The failure to organize, the inability to create coherent messages, the unwillingness to aggressively push critical policy through to passage are creating a perfect storm for what could result in the final nail in the American democratic experiment.
The problems with political parties today are well-documented: Power remains in hands of top leaders who do not consult the ordinary members. Corruption is real, as is the notion of dynastic succession. Ultimately, it's the money. Money to organize, money to meet, money to travel, money to advertise... all of which give the wealthiest of donors direct access to political powers and an unfair advantage when the government comes to power. I truly believe that our republic is in peril.
I also believe there is a solution. I've written about DAOs here over the past few weeks - the decentralized autonomous ownership model for crowdsourced fundraising, community engagement, participation, and value creation for token holders across various industries. But in a conversation with my friend Lee Maicon last week, we scratched the surface of an idea to flip the Democratic Party model on its head. A campaign DAO. A DAOmocratic Party. After some initial googling, it sounds like we weren't the first to cook this up in our brains (with the deluge of news and rapid-fire web3 activity, who can keep up?). Actually, a lot has been written already, but, ironically, none of it is centralized or organized in any meaningful way.
The potential power of a DAO would shift the power from leaders to people. Blockchain tech is creating change in various industries, and has the potential of enabling true democracy at all levels of governance. A DAOmocratic Party that is collectively owned and managed by its members. Decisions are governed by proposals and voting to ensure everyone in the party has a voice. It is trustless, permissionless, and open. It runs on a built-in treasury that no one individual has the authority to access without the approval of the group. No party leader can authorize decisions based on their own whims and governance will be baked into its code.
Something like this is bigger than me, but with the right initial organizational setup, there's something here. While organizing for 2022 seems daunting, as it will definitely take some time to implement different models than we are used to, blockchain tech is here to stay. It's already being used for voting in many places (eg: Voatz app powered by biometrics is used in several states). And with democracy in peril, DAOmocracy may just be our best hope to the change the traditional party system forever.
SOMETHING PROFESSIONAL: Thoughts are not Thought Leadership
My apologies if I'm making things worse, but the volume of news and noise regarding the continued emergence of web3 and blockchain technologies, and specifically their role in the marketing and advertising ecosystem, is monumental. With that come additional opinions, reactions, predictions, and use cases. The result is a lot of thoughts, but not a lot of thought leadership. Compounding matters are the liberal (often inaccurate) use of terms and words whose definitions are NOT interchangeable.
The metaverse is not Web 3.0 is not web3 is not NFTs is not blockchain is not AI is not AR is not VR.
First and foremost, the metaverse is just another name for the internet. New modes of interaction, new platforms, new creative opportunities, and new outcomes are all possible as the metaverse expands. The arrival of AR/VR "worlds" within the metaverse are playgrounds for connection (gamified, professional, educational, you name it...). NFTs, we know, are tokens for different types of opportunity: from collection to ownership. Some of the creative we're starting to see is incredible. Tools to measure types of transactions are also emerging, and providing real insights for input, planning, and iterative exploration.
For marketers, the opportunities are truly staggering. As I said on a call last week, the only limitations are our imaginations (Okay, maybe not all improvisation is good). Branded activations have just begun, but many more are following fast. The number of really good, inspiring work has been limited, but some areas of opportunity are emerging. And in order to get there, the leaders in this space will be the Strategists and Planners.
Looking back over the last few decades, strategists (and increasingly digital strategists) have been seen the big ideas, and helped figure out how to make them happen. They've designed blueprints, architectures, roadmaps, and more. And that's what's needed again now. The templatized marketing playbook for NFTs hasn't actually changed... the successful model and approach from 50 and 25 and 10 years ago still apply. The same questions must be asked and answered:
Insights: What do we know about our audience? Their expectations? The other platforms they use to consume and create content?
Strategy: What does the brand want to accomplish? How does it define the value exchange between itself and consumers? What can they each offer each other?
Creative: What assets can be created and leveraged by brands to unlock this value exchange?
Community: What is needed to leverage the power of the people to connect, participate, engage, and share?
Measurement: What are the KPIs? What tools and platforms can we use to gauge effectiveness?
Optimization: What have we learned? What are others doing? How do we do it better the next time?
For creative agencies, for media agencies, for in-house brand teams, for consultancies, this is the way forward with web3.
Have thoughts that lead.
Study the plot, know the characters, memorize the script... but improvise for each brand, each consumer segment, every value, every benefit.