I have immersed myself in Seth Godin’s work lately having been drawn in by his focus on art and artists. Seth’s definition of art is broad, “art is the unique work of a human being, work that touches another”. To Seth art and the artist are not on the fringe but in fact right at the center of the post-industrial economy — “creating ideas that spread and connecting the disconnected are the two pillars of our new society, and both of them require the posture of an artist”.
On Wednesday night I stumbled across How Music Works, a new book by renowned musical artist David Byrne at the Strand in NYC. It is David’s attempt to recount what he has learned from his many years as a musician. In this book he says, “I have…..looked for patterns in how music is written, recorded, distributed, and received - and then asked myself if the forces that fashioned and shaped these patterns have guided my own work.. and maybe those of others as well”. What caught my attention was David’s own broad statement about art - “context largely determines what is written, painted, sculpted, sung or performed”. In the case of music “context” for David means the characteristics of the venue where it will likely be played starting with the caves of early humans, to the chambers in palaces eventually to opera and symphony halls but not to exclude CBGB or even the digital devices, the private venues, we carry in our pockets today.
Reflecting on my own art which is teaching innovation, the ideas I am sharing with MFA students at the School of Visual Arts in NYC are about the art of entrepreneurship. Seth doesn’t focus on entrepreneurship but he often mentions the entrepreneur such as he did in The Icarus Deception in a section entitled “The Artist as an Outsider”. After mentioning the “successful writer” as an outsider he goes on to include “programmers, entrepreneurs, graphic artists and others who make a ruckus”, a ruckus being a key characteristic Seth attributes to artists.
A word that gets used or at least gets included in a question that is often asked about art is “genius”. In The Icarus Deception Seth says, “art is a leap into the void, a chance to give birth to your genius and to make magic where there was no magic before”. David on the other hand qualifies genius in a very interesting way, “genius - the emergence of a truly remarkable and memorable work—seems to appear when a thing is perfectly suited to its context.” David goes on, “when something works, it strikes us as not just being a clever adaptation, but as emotionally resonant as well. When the right thing is in the right place, we are moved.”
It is the next thing that David says that to me is a deep insight. “In my experience, the emotionally charged content always lies there, hidden, waiting to be tapped, and although musicians tailor and mold their work to how and where it will be best heard or seen, the agony and the ecstasy can be relied on to fill whatever shape is available.” For Steve Jobs, the Apple computer, for Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook, for Sergey and Larry, Google, all fit perfectly in the emerging contexts of their moments. For myself and my students this question is so important - look around, what is the emerging context you can fill - that will create emotional resonance - as you create your art - your entrepreneurial designs for social innovation?
It has been over a month since my first ever blog post which was on creating your own serendipity. Well here I go again - more self-made serendipity when I attended Nelly Yusupova’s @DigitalWoman Build Your Social Media Footprint workshop at ThoughtWorks in NYC yesterday. As I told my fellow attendees on introducing myself, I was the definition of an outlier as the only male with 30+ women who are part of NYCWebGrrls. Luckily they didn’t hold that against me.
As CTO of WebGrrls for many years, Nelly herself is an outlier. She is a very knowledgeable technologist helping other women understand how to survive in a technological jungle, providing a map for not just how to stay out of trouble, but to succeed in building web-based businesses by avoiding classic mistakes which can often be very expensive, if not deadly.
In recent years Nelly realized that beyond technology itself, social media is another confusing landscape that throws a lot of early stage companies, as well as individuals trying to build personal brands, for a loop. I spent a fair amount of time experimenting with social media the past couple of years in different contexts. The first foray for me was inspired by Bo.lt (a creation of the Roche brothers, Matt and Jamie, in SF) which unfortunately ended up in mothballs, at least for now. Bo.lt was a powerful visual curation tool, an early competitor to Pinterest, which left it in the dust. Its one claim to fame was the ability to create independent archival working copies of any webpage, not just providing links to them. This view was rooted in Matt and Jamie’s B2B experience, unlike the pure consumer focus of Pinterest which won out. Nonetheless, for close to a year I used Bo.lt to curate and share content on entrepreneurship, startups, technology and a few other subjects. With Bo.lt I could track in detail not just views but the actual reads of the “Bolts” I was posting to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, LinkedIn and Pinterest. I discovered and used Bufferapp to simplify the actual mechanics of posting. However, in spite of all that experimentation which led to over 50,000 reads in about 9 months, I didn’t really develop a clear vision of how to lay out and implement a full fledged social media strategy, much less advise anyone else on how to do it. That is what Nelly took us through yesterday.
After 9 hours with Nelly and the Webgrrls I left with a much deeper understanding of the power of a well planned social media strategy rooted in a careful rethink of my personal brand - a work in progress starting this week with Twitter, a cleanup on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr and maybe even Instagram to follow in the coming weeks. Nelly didn’t just cover the basics, she went deep and turned us on to some very powerful advanced “hacks” to help build a community of true followers. As I actively contemplate another startup, in the educational space this time, I realize how critically important it is to lay the groundwork of a more clearly articulated personal brand, thanks to Nelly.
Beyond the serendipity of discovering Nelly through a recent acquaintance, Mary Juetten of Phoenix-based legal startup Traklight, the icing on the cake yesterday was networking with the Webgrrls. I found lots of overlap with my fellow attendees and am looking forward to followup on a number of fronts. Beyond that I have lots of new information to share with my School of Visual Arts graduate students in the Design for Social Innovation department who are currently building 6 startups. Given my audience yesterday, I took the opportunity to tell the story of one SVA student startup to the WebGrrls. Lovability founded by Tiffany Gaines is focused on women’s health and empowerment, attacking the stigma of the purchase of condoms by women. Lovability has created and is distributing a line of condoms designed for women by women sold where women feel comfortable shopping e.g. beauty stores, lingerie shops and other types of boutiques as well as on the web. I was anxious to test Lovability’s message with a target audience of women on my own. The feedback was amazingly positive.
Final note: Nelly also has two other workshops coming up under her Tech Speak for Entrepreneurs , her “how to navigate in the tech jungle” workshop. I would highly recommend Nelly to anyone, male or female, on either social media or tech speak! Another way you can make your own serendipity too.