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Ideas | Sean L. Womack
Where Kevin Rose’s idea for Digg was born

Where Kevin Rose’s idea for Digg was born

Just saw this on Bryson Moore’s blog, and think it is a great photo for a three reasons:

1. It shows the power of thinking visually.
2. It shows how to get ideas down on paper.
3. It shows that tools you love help facilitate #1 and #2.

I don’t know Kevin, and I don’t use Digg that much, but I like his taste in notebooks and writing instruments.

Creative thinking requires the right tools, and those are two very practical and very powerful ones.

Go out and buy a pen and a notebook you will love, and that you will use. I have a shelf full of Moleskines and a cup full of these pens. You will use them more if you love them.

And the key to great ideas is to have a lot of ideas — and get them on paper fast.

Posted via web from Sean Womack’s Stream

Sawhorse Media

One of the “Professional Digital Curators” pointed out by @SteveRubel. As content continues to proliferate, we are going to need people (that we trust) sorting and sifting through all of this content and bringing forward the best of the best. There are semantic engines working on this (kosmix.com), and a great topical social network (dorthy.comdisclosure: they are a client) doing this work, but there’s nothing like a human filter. I guess we call them editors, huh? And boy do we need them — now more than ever.

It’s one thing to list ranks (technorati.com) of top sites, but it’s quite another to personally aggregate a collection of resources. This is the front-end of a trend that is taking over everywhere. Magazines like Monocle and even retailers like Colette in Paris have been curating products and ideas. But we are in desperate need of solutions beyond keywords to catalog the universe online.

Posted via web from Sean Womack’s Stream

How Ideas Take Shape

Ideas do not come into the world fully formed. They take shape. This drawing is a model for bringing ideas to life. It is based on the acronym for Shape — See, Hear, Ask, Play, Engage. I used to hate acronyms until I studied the word. It is Greek and literally means the “tip of the word.” Some of the original acronyms were Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, RADAR and LASER. So, those are cool words.

Here’s how the model works:

1. See & Hear. Observation and listening are key elements in idea hunting. They are the primary activities — not talking. We want to ask questions and we aren’t very good at it and our questions introduce bias. So, just watch and listen. When I worked at Saatchi, we would take executives shopping for their products in stores and just watch them. Many couldn’t find their own products on the shelf.

Anthropologists have been watching people in their cultures for years. It’s a great way to learn that I discovered firsthand. Before I was married, I worked at a greeting card company in product development. I got an assignment to create baby products. You know, first year books, calendar, etc. So, I invited all the Mom’s I knew to a meeting, and asked them to bring their baby books. It was a revelation. Watching them look through the books and listening to them tell stories to the other women. I realized that these books were a measure of motherhood, and it shaped our development of a whole suite of tools for mom’s to capture those early years. But I got those insights by seeing and hearing.

2. Ask & Play. These are the first and second activities. First you have to Ask, but not with your mouth. Ask with your eyes – watch intently, observe. Ask with your ears by listening to conversations and hearing what people are really saying. Like those mom’s telling me about a baby book, but really telling me about their desire to remember and mark milestones in their child’s lives and lacking both the tools and time to do so.

After you Ask, you Play. This is the creative part of the exercise, and it should not feel like work. If it does, then you are doing it work. Work and stress are flow killers and constrict ideas. I’ve got a great tool for ideation called Deconstruction. I’ll share it in another post.

3. Engage your idea with the world. Get feedback (n:1) from lots of people. How do they like it? Watch (see) them use it. Listen (hear) them talk about it as they use it. Insight. Insight. Insight. Harvest these learnings and go back into the Ask or Play phase again. Iterate until you are ready to Engage again. Then repeat until you have a winner — and your idea has taken shape.

The diagram is a matrix with See & Hear on the Y-Axis and Ask & Play on the X-Axis. This makes 4 distinct activities: Two in the Ask mode, and two in the Play mode. Only then do you engage your audience. Repeat as needed. It’s a total of 6 steps. To recap the process:

  1. See/Ask phase. Watch and observe.
  2. Hear/Ask phase. Listen and learn.
  3. See/Play phase. Work out the pattern.
  4. Hear/Play phase. Talk out ideas.
  5. Engage phase. Get it out into the world.
  6. Repeat. As needed.

We’ll spend time on this in other posts looking at how to execute these phases — best practices, etc.

Office culture as social media (aka. how-to become part of a culture)

I’m working on site for a new client this week. We are thinking about online and social media strategies (officially), but I am thinking (actually) about working in an office environment versus working in my own office. I’ve worked on-site for clients from time-to-time and it’s very disorienting initially, then it becomes very comfortable – just about the time to leave.

Interesting that this week we are working on social media strategies. Because the culture of an office is definitely a social structure – i.e. a media – and it offers some lessons about how to think about a social (or any other) media strategy. Here are 5 ways that you can become a part of a culture (online or otherwise):

1. Learn the language. Every culture has a language all its own. Duh, I know this is a bit obvious. But it’s not the English vs. Spanish kind of language that makes a difference. It’s the knowing that on a movie set a clothespin is called a C-47 kind of language that matters. This goes way beyond just knowing the text messaging shortcuts that your kids are using, and into the nomenclature of an industry and the secret handshake language of particular departments in large corporations. It’s how we spot newbies. And if you are new, you will say the wrong thing. Humility says to ask first. And humility works in almost all cultures (any culture you’d want to be a part of anyway).

2. Ask questions and really listen to the answers. Going with learning the language is asking people about themselves or about topics you know they love or are knowledgeable about. How will you know? By listening. This is the most powerful technology is the social media ecosystem – listening tools. From Google Alerts to radian6 to Motive Quest, these tools help you listen to the conversations going on. It is de facto understood online that people are listening. It’s a public space. If you are invited to the party, then you are welcome to mingle and listen in. The web gives you tools to listen to all the conversations. And you should. If you care what people are saying about you.

3. Get to know people. But just listening without engaging is a bit creepy if you do it for a long time. We call them stalkers in the real world. People who hover around just watching you, but never introducing themselves. The online space has some Orwellian possibilities to be sure, but smart companies, brands and people (was that redundant?) are now listening and finding the relevant conversations to join. Then they are coming in graciously and finding out what is going on, learning the language, and seeing who is leading the conversation (because it’s not them).

4. Learn the stories of the place. Language and literature (i.e. the stories) are the foundations of all cultures. It’s how identity, values, beliefs, etc. are passed from generation to generation. Every culture has its stories – especially the web. Urban legends are almost exclusively born on the web these days and now pass H1N1 like through social media connections. Origin stories, war stories, failures, successes – these are the classics of any office culture. Bloggers all have posts that are all time favorites of readers. Knowing what stories are being told in a culture – especially if that culture is about your brand/company – is critical.

5. Then introduce yourself (in more detail). Only after you have an understanding of the people, the language, and the stories in a culture will people want to really know who you are. People want to know you get them before they will want to hear anything you have to say. People want to be listened to, to be understood. This is universal and not unique to any medium. It’s the human medium. It’s relationship 101. And it’s important if you are introducing yourself that you are a person vs. a brand. People can like a brand, but no matter what marketing gurus tell us, they cannot have a relationship with a brand or an organization. They may relate to it, but that does not make it a relationship.

DIY web 2.0 agency presence (without a staff or an agency)

Yeah, I know…poor me, huh? Okay, so first things first – we have the url secured and the WordPress template (I’m using Thesis from DIY) loaded and functional. But I don’t like the design. And I’m not an official designer. I started life as a Creative Director, but I’m a writer more than an artist. Which means I have dangerous opinions about design, but I’m not officially qualified.

Here, I’ll have the design department work on it – except there is no design department. This means that for now, I’ll have these photos to the right (okay, I got those out of the way) that I don’t like and cannot do anything about. And I’m not crazy about Georgia, I’d rather have Helvetica Neue or something from HF&J foundry (see just dangerous enough), but I don’t know if they’ll run everywhere.

It’s one thing to work on the brand strategy and advertising campaigns. It’s quite another to sit down with no incredibly talented teams to fall back on and just do the work your self. I don’t know if understanding how to get Google Analytics running for my blog will help my work with clients, but it just might.

Here’s the tools I’m using (so far anyway):

  1. Setting up a WordPress site for my blog, my agency (TBD), and a writing project I’m working on — eventually, I’ll have a couple of the start-ups I’ve either founded or that are clients on there as well.
  2. I’m using the Thesis template by DIY. It’s elegant, and has nice design tools although not the WYSIWYG of a Squarespace, it also doesn’t cost. And I’m anxious to see version 2.0.
  3. I’m wiring the WordPress site into my LinkedIn and my Twitter accounts. I’m trying to migrate Facebook back to just personal stuff instead of work stuff. Perhaps that is old fashioned, but so be it.
  4. I’m considering using Posterous (and now Post.ly) to help with posting (and because I’m interested in all of these automation sites). It integrates well with WordPress – and I have a Tumblr site for the random things I see and like.
  5. Instead of building out a robust personal site, I want to use other social sites to showcase client work (on Virb, Flickr, etc.), and then share presentations (SlideShare) and whitepapers (Scribd) that I’m working on as well. More for the experiment of it than because I think it will work beautifully.
  6. I’m using Google Analytics to monitor (the currently non-existent) site traffic, and I’ll register the site with Quantcast just for kicks.
  7. What am I missing?
  8. Ah, sharing on Google Reader and probably a few other items.

At TBD, we talk to clients all the time about social media – what it is and isn’t, how to and not to use it – but I am seriously impressed with the people who just started on their own, learned as they went about it, and did not quit.

Not quitting is a big deal. More on that later.

Doing versus thinking…

It’s really nice to just sit and think about things – to roll them around in your mind, take them apart and reconstruct them in various ways. In a way, it is very satisfying. But only in a way – and that way is fleeting. Just a moment.

Doing is very different. It is messy and difficult. Filled with fits and starts. Dead ends and frustrations. Embarrassing gaffes and elusive triumphs. But when you are done, something is there. Something new (perhaps) or at least new to you. But it is there and real.

I’ve spent much of my career thinking up stuff for my companies and clients. Most of it never came into being. That’s kind of the nature of the beast in the idea economy. Lots of ideas. Very little stuff.

Not true for my grandfather. He was a carpenter and a brick mason. He built things. If he thought about something at work, then it was how to build a wall or brick around a window. His thinking had a tangible outcome. I want more of this.

The good news in our knowledge/attention/entertainment/new media/adjective-of-the-day economy, is that the tools of production are democratized. No, not for everyone (although $100 laptop is getting us there), but for most in the US it is. That means that the distance between idea and production is smaller. And that’s a good think for the thinkers and the daydreamers of the world.

In that spirit, I’ve decided to build a structure for my thoughts. A place to capture the things that I have been thinking about over the past number of years – most of which I talk to colleagues or clients about. Some of the ideas are practical, some are half-baked (if that), some I’m just working out. So, I’m doing and thinking here – or maybe doing some thinking…in public.

I’m also in the process of starting an agency (well, it’s been three years in the making), but I plan to share the story as it unfolds. As much as clients will allow, and as much as you care to read. I hope an inside (and honest) look under the hood is helpful, and I’m hoping that anyone reading will share their wisdom along the way.

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