The Wild West or the Community Garden

In the Wild West where pioneering, innovating, and creating is about survival what can we learn from the Lone Ranger?

The Lone Ranger is an outsider.
The Lone Ranger is suspicious of the status quo.
The Lone Ranger avoids collaboration.
The Lone Ranger finds his own way.

This approach to the world could be the best approach if the world is mainly corrupt and largely full of powerful people who are actively against you and what you stand for. Adopting the “me against the world” mindset works, but is rarely sustainable. In the end, this uncompromising tragic hero dies a glorious and righteous death.

In stark contrast to the Lone Ranger, I came across the following quote from Randy Kosimar of Kleiner Perkins from the book Give and Take.

“It’s easier to win if everybody wants you to win. If you don’t make enemies out there, it’s easier to succeed.”

Kosimar sees the world quite differently than the Lone Ranger. It’s a place where people are mainly supportive unless you don’t play nice with others. Perhaps Kosimar is suggesting that Silicon Valley works more like a community garden than the wild west.

It’s best if we trust each other.
There is room for everyone.
We are interdependent members of this marketplace.
There are enough resources for everything good.

This approach to the world could be the best if the world is supportive, abundant, and trust worthy. Adopting the “let’s all win together” mindset works, but is rarely sustainable without fences. In the end, it’s not so much a community garden as it’s a community garden within a gated community.

It’s a real privilege to collaborate in a positive, supportive, and abundant environment…and this especially hits home when you’re not allowed past the gate. I don’t see the Lone Ranger waiting by the gate to be let in. He will find his own way to contribute positively in the world beyond the gate.

Experience Architects vs. Film Directors

In response to the internet, brand expanded from logo, color, and slogan to all the ways in which every stakeholder experiences the company and its services/products. Almost all aspects of a company are now consumer facing or can be exposed quite easily to the public. Ethics and morality aside, integrity is a pressing pragmatic reality for those companies who want to grow and keep their customers.

Enter the Experience Architect. I know, this sounds like another example of novelty job titles, or worse, job title bloat. But this title, or better, this role is crucial in consumer facing companies. Put simply, experience is the 4D version of the brand, and architect is someone who designs and guides a plan. Guide is the right word because total control is unrealistic.

Film direction shares much in common with experience design and architecture save for one critical aspect, total control. Film directors (a.k.a mega control freaks) have total control over what the audience sees and feels. This total control allows the director to utilize deception, theatrics, and facades to create a sense of reality. There is no such thing as total control over the experience for the brand.

Incidentally, this may explain my growing enjoyment for older movies, especially spaghetti westerns (think Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.) I appreciate these films especially from a production and direction stand point. Stylistically, they are gritty and simple. But I love discovering the artifacts of production that subtly confess the deception. As film technology has developed so has the ability of film directors to control the experience. The inverse is true for companies trying to control the brand experience. As internet technology has developed so has the ability of consumers to control their experience.

What can your company control? Your company can control the creation a company that is coherent, cohesive, and clear. You can design and build a company that has integrity in every dimension. What can’t you control? Your customers will discover every inconsistency and share it with the world. So in terms of brand, let’s abandon the idea of total control and embrace architecture as the more powerful and appropriate concept for companies.

If It Hurts, It Means You’re Alive

My tough-minded imaginary friend reminds me often, “If it hurts, it means you’re alive.” He is right. I have never experienced growth in any category that didn’t hurt. The high school growth spurt, achieving fitness goals, admitting my mistakes, deepening the intimate character of my marriage, or taking on bigger responsibilities at work.

Maybe it is the modern middle class malady of America post WWII that our culture has elevated comfort as the telos (i.e. purpose, goal) of our lives. There is a certain irony that in our comfort seeking we cause ourselves and others a lot of discomfort. So in reality, we create and endure all sorts of pain to attain some kind of discrete comfort.

I cannot help but think about the cautionary tale of Pixar’s Wall-E. Wall-E shows us that thoughtless consumption is dangerous for our own persons, society, and planet. When society stops asking questions and falls into a level of thoughtlessness we serve the status quo and, in the case of Wall-e, nurtured what became a saccharin cess pool of comfort. On the flip side thoughtfulness is painful. Thoughtfulness in action means reflecting, reflecting means asking questions, and questions hold the potentiality of undoing the status quo.

The romantic side of asking questions is discovery, adventure, and curiosity. The realistic side of asking questions is a headache, uncertainty, and anxiety.

Wall-E, the robot, through a spark of curiosity grows beyond his finite programming and in that becomes the most human character. His growth becomes the catalyst to a series of events that wreak havoc on the status quo ultimately leading to merely biological humans rediscovering their transcendent teleological nature.

Christian Smith says it well:

Essential to grasp is the ineradicably teleological character of human personal life. Being a person is not about stasis or equilibrium. It is about going somewhere, pursuing an end. Life must entail personal growth, unfolding, and development that moves in right directions (and so also has the potential to move in wrong directions). For human persons, existence is not a happening to simply take in, but an active journey, a movement toward a proper destination. That inherently implies that the present, the status quo, where one is now, is not good enough, not the right place, not the final destination. One needs to move, to change, to get somewhere. To stay put would be to stagnate, to fail to realize one’s true end. One has to get on the roads of life, to move toward the goal, to achieve a purpose that is presently unfulfilled.

Smith, Christian (2015-03-23). To Flourish or Destruct: A Personalist Theory of Human Goods, Motivations, Failure, and Evil (p. 206). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.

What Is Your Origin Story, and Does It Matter?

Every hero or leader has an origin story. Why do we care about where someone came from? Sometimes we simply have a sense of curiosity about someone we meet. Often the interest in someone’s origin is to help us understand her present behavior or how she achieved so much. We believe that if we learn where she came from, who her family was, what she experienced then we would understand her.

If we were to be honest, the origin stories we most care about are the individuals who have achieved greatness or notoriety. Those who stand out the most make us want to learn their stories. How did they become who they are today? Why do they do what they do? We think we want to understand them, but really we are trying to understand our story better.

The latest neuroscience research has only confirmed what we already knew about humans. We love a good story. But it is more than love; we need a good story. We are wired to infer a causal relationship between everything we experience. The more stories we consume, the better we get at communicating a story of our lives. (StoryCorps is a great place to start to consuming profound stories of normal people.)

In the paragraph above, I deliberately wrote a story of our lives not the story of our lives. Do you know how many books have been written on the life of Lincoln, Jesus, Hitler, etc? We are still trying to understand these influential people and so we keep writing and we keep reading. Similar to the cooking challenges we watch on TV, the chefs are given the same ingredients and are asked to make something unique, we are always gathering the disparate ingredients of our lives and trying to make it cohere into something meaningful.

Just like the most interesting super heroes and villains, you and I have origin stories. An origin story is simply your answer to the following question: How do you make sense of how you have arrived to this day? Origin stories are interesting because they are driven and defined by a future event. The arc is defined and the story plays out. The hook in the story is the desire to discover and understand the how and why of the character. It is not to discover the plot. It is to fill in the blanks. It is to make the inexplicable accessible.

From Products to Platforms

At any major construction site in your city, you’re sure to find platforms. As a building rises higher and higher, the platform provides a place where a variety of people—including electricians, engineers, site supervisors, and inspectors—can stand.

Digital platforms serve a similar purpose—and as technology evolves, their value will grow exponentially. The proliferation of cloud, social, and mobile technologies have contributed to what has been called “a globally accessible network of entrepreneurs, workers, and consumers who are available to create businesses, contribute content, and purchase goods and services.”

As Mark Bonchek and Sangeet Paul Choudary have argued, there are three key factors that determine the success of a platform strategy: the ability of others to plug into the platform to share and interact, the ability of the platform to attract those who will produce and consume content, and the ability of the platform to foster exchange and create value.

In every sector of the marketplace the shift from products to platforms is already well underway. Your company should not be asking how to keep up. What you should be asking is what steps you need to take in order to set your company apart.