Big Thinkers in HP Campaign

I ran across an HP ad on Business Insider that connected with me.

The company gathered a set of big thinkers to talk about big ideas. The videos are produced by Big Think.

When you click on the ad you are taken to HP’s Input | Output site. This is where it gets a little weird

I can’t figure out what the point of this speciality site inside of HP. The urls look weird ( The disclaimer in the sidebar reads “HP does not endorse this content and is not responsible for its accuracy, availability and quality.” If the company won’t take responsibility, this doesn’t create confidence for the reader.

What’s worse is the production values of the videos are on the weak. Fried’s video is dark. The audio track is out of sync on Battelle’s video.

I like the content, but if you listen to Battelle’s video, this whole experience is certainly “a fish with feet” feel. It needs to evolve on many fronts.

Idea Arena Podcast – The Big Thirst Interview with Charles Fishman

In this interview, I talk with Charles Fishman, the author of The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water.

Fishman, a longtime writer for Fast Company Magazine and the author of The Wal-Mart Effect, takes on the conflicted relationship we have with water and how those conflicts, left unresolved, will only lead to bigger problems as the water we need becomes more scarce. From the opulent water fountains on the Las Vegas Strip to water delivery trucks in India, from a wool processing plant in Australia to a IBM microchip production plant in Vermont, Fishman illuminates the unknown ways water gets used while showing how our attitudes about life-giving liquid must change.

Our relationship to water goes way beyond what we know about it. The facts about water, the science, the chemistry, the geology–those are both fascinating and important. There would be no advanced civilization today without that understanding–we would have long poisoned ourselves.

But our relationship to water is at least as much emotional as it is analytical. That’s why a bottle of Evian tastes so good that we pay a thousand times more for it than for the same amount of water from the kitchen faucet. It’s the reason that water pipes hidden beneath our streets are poorly maintained, it’s why people around the world get so angry when their water bills go up.

We need to understand the science of water goes only so far in explaining how we deal with water every day, both as individuals and as a society. And our feelings about water are often so powerful, so visceral, that we need to be sure they don’t prevent us from seeing water clearly.

The interview lasts 43 minutes.


Download Interview

Idea Arena Podcast – Cognitive Surplus Interview with Clay Shirky

In this interview I talk with Clay Shirky, author of Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in A Connected Age.

Shirky has been talking about the Internet on the Internet for over fifteen years and in the last five years he has written two books. His first book, Here Comes Everybody, was a historical narrative of sorts that traced the evolutions of the Internet from a thoughtful sociological point view, something missing from practically all social media books written in the last few years. Cognitive Surplus takes the reader one step forward and starts to prognosticate what might be possible and, as Shirky always does, provides a balanced yet positive view for what is to come: 

Just because the norms involved in social production have antecedents in market culture doesn't mean that the two modes can be easily hybridized, though. In fact, switching from paying professionals to create something to having communities do it for the love of the thing may be technically trivial but socially wrenching. Contested ways of organizing an activity potentially produce friction. There is a constant debate around the donation of blood, plasma, and organs as to whether they should be treated as a communal good or a market commodity. Both methods have been tried in various places, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. But the heat of the debate isn't about marginal difference between Red Cross blood drives (which rely on communal logic) and people selling their blood for plasma (organized in a market). The conflict instead it about the morality of the market as a way to get people to offer their blood or organs.

Cognitive Surplus Interview wth Clay Shirky

Idea Arena Podcast – Burst Interview with Albert-László Barabási

In this interview, I talk with Albert-László Barabási, author of Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do.

Barabási has been on the forefront of research into network theory. His first book Linked was about the connections. His new book Bursts is about the dynamics of how we live. He says we need to move from a model which emphasizes averages and random behavior to one that is represented by short periods of intense activity followed by longer lulls. Applications have already been seen in the diagnosis of depression and the movement of money.

[L]et me clarify that there is a fundamental difference between what we do and how predictable we are. When it comes to things we do–like the distances we travel, the numbers of emails we send, or the number of calls we make–we encounter power laws, which means that some individuals are significantly more active than others. The send more messages; they travel farther. This also means that outliers are normal–we expect to have a few individuals…who cover hundreds or even thousands of miles on a regular basis

But when it comes to the predictability of our actions, to our surprise power laws are replaced by Gaussians. This means that whether you limit your life to a two-mile neighborhood or drive dozens of miles each day, take a fast train to work or even commute via airplane, you are just as predictable as everyone else. And once Gaussians dominates the problem, outliers are forbidden, just as bursts are never found in Poisson's dice-driven universe. Or two-mile-tall folks ambling down the street are unheard of. Despite the many differences between us, when it came to our whereabouts we are all equally predictable, and the unforgiving law of statics forbids the existence of individuals ho somehow buck this trend.

Download the Burst Interview with Albert-László Barabási


SXSWi – Dangerous Curves

Rolf Skyberg from EBay gave a great talk at SXSWi called Dangerous Curves.

He started with the idea that everyone has seen a hockey stick in their data before; the ever rising, totally exciting period when users are flocking to your page or product. As Rolf point out, the trouble is that exponential growth is not sustainable and it is only a question of what will happen next.

Most growth curve level out and become the well-known S-curve of innovation. Some start to oscillate and indicate some cyclical nature to the usage.

The new one for me was the Gartner Hype Cycle (page 67 in the slidedeck below. There are five phases which will immediately sound familiar to anyone who has hang around technology:

  1. Technology Trigger
  2. Peak of Inflated Expectations
  3. Trough of Disillusionment
  4. Slope of Enlightenment
  5. Plateau of Productivity

His final curve was the normal growth cycle (p81) and this is one we are all familiar with: Introduction, Growth, Maturity, Saturation, and Decline. Rolf called this one of the most helpful of all the curves. It matches the course of new projects, new teams, new companies, and to no surrpise, life itself. He even has assigned numbers to each phase and uses it as a vocabulary to locate things in their growth curve. He delivers career advice as well, pointing out that different people often work best in phases of growth (ie Rockstars like the growth, while Optimizers thrive in the saturation phase).

This was definitely one of the best talks I saw in Austin.

Ideas Need Air

I got out of my basement office yesterday and spent time with people I know in Milwaukee.

I was reminded again that ideas get better when you talk about them. Face to face is better than phone and much better than email.

You can see immediately if they get it. If they are good listeners, they share with you what works and doesn't.

Better yet, new ideas or appear out of thin air.

Don't keep things to yourself. Find someone to talk about your crazy idea with today.

Work and Play

Today, I finished the main work for the ebook I have coming out in two weeks. Feels really good.

But I sent it out to some good friends for feedback, so we’ll see how I feel after that.

I also picked up Hipstamatic, an iPhone app that allows you to choose lens and films from plastic cameras of years past. I took a picture of the whiteboard I was working from, so you can get a little preview of both the app and the ebook.

Ebook Whiteboard with Hipsamatic

Tumbling Todd

Just wanted to let you know that I also have a Tumblr blog where all of my links, twitter posts, and flickr photos get posted.

I also mention it because there are interesting photos, images and videos that I post there that don’t really fit here. Today I posted a great graphic analysis of the color changes to the Crayola over the last 100 years. In the past week, I have linked to a blog that is considering alternate designs for airline boarding passes, a set of college calculus cheat sheets, the fictitious Atari 2600 Avatar game, Sally Hogsheads’ Hog-isms, and a video of The Decade from the Covers of Magazines.

I can be a little noisy, but you might find some other interesting stuff there.

Start with Being Annoyed

“Most of my big ideas – and a lot of the small ones – start with my being annoyed.”

-Author Sarah A. Hoyt at Whatever

The same thing happens to me, maybe you as well.

I got annoyed by Chris Anderson’s Free.

This provided early fuel for the ebook I have been working on. I thought too much got mixed up in the no-price blender and that we had some how lost track of what was really important in the conversation about free. The book failed to pull the conversation together around a finite set of ideas.

I am going to make an attempt at talking about cost, price, margin, and free. And lock it together in a way that business people can think about it.

The ebook will be publishing on my favorite holiday of the year – February 2nd – Groundhog’s Day.

Four Big Business Books To Start 2010

If you didn’t want to read about the collapse of the global financial system, there wasn’t a lot for you in the business book category in 2009. I have been posting reviews of the handful of my favorites over the last week (What Would Google Do?, The Four Conversations, and Trade-Off).

2010 is going to be different. In the next eight weeks, four big business books are going to be published, giving us plenty of ideas to talk about.

  1. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Dan Pink – The book was released last week (December 29th). I am about halfway through it and the book is working for me. I am going to be catching up with Dan later this month for an interview, so stay tuned.
  2. Linchpin: Are You Indispensible? by Seth Godin – I’ve read it already and loved it. Portfolio releases it on January 26th. More soon.
  3. Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath – I have the galley and I am not as far as I should be into the book, but it is hard to bet against the Heath Brothers. The book drops February 16th.
  4. Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson – The 37 Signals guys are taking their Getting Real message to the masses with this book from Crown Business due out March 9th.

I am going to be doing interviews with all of these guys, so watch for those as their books come to market.

Lots to look forward to as we start New Year!

Book Review – Trade-off by Kevin Maney

Tucked in Neal Stephenson’s wonderful book Snow Crash is this comparison in a fictional future where all highways are owned by corporations:

CSV-5 has better throughput, but Cal-12 has better pavement. That is typical—Fairlanes roads emphasize getting you there, for Type A drivers, and Cruiseways emphasize the enjoyment of the ride for Type B drivers.

Author Kevin Maney recognized that we make comparisons and choices like this every day, sometimes taking for the fastest route while other times opting for the best ride. Maney says in his book Trade-Off the only path to success is for companies to concentrate on one of two those needs. Pursuing both is the path of failure.

Maney uses the words convenience and fidelity to describe the opposing needs. The wide availability and low cost creates convenience, while fidelity combines the experience of purchase with the prestige of the brand and the way it reinforces our identity. Our choice of easiest versus best is complicated, flipping back and forth based on the needs of the moment.

Think about hiring an employee. A call to Kelly Services will conveniently fill the open position tomorrow. Pick up the phone, dial Spencer Stuart, and they’ll start a comprehensive search for the best candidate in the world. Both approaches fulfill the need in completely different ways and with understandably different results.

If this sounds familiar, the convenience/fidelity trade-off is another route at the well worn discussion of transactional versus relationship-driven businesses. Others have described the tension as price versus prestige. John Hagel and Marc Singer went as far as suggesting that companies should be broken up along the lines of infrastructure management (convenience), product innovation (fidelity), and customer relationships (fidelity) because the demands of each where so unique.

Maney addresses the challenge of trying to do both, describing it more as an impossibility. In the dual pursuit of convenience and fidelity, Maney says companies chase a mirage and over time are sucked into a place of increasing irrelevance where customers understand less and less why they need your products. 35mm film, movie theaters, and Starbucks all serve as anecdotes.

Some are going to read Trade-Off and say they have seen this play before. Maney is surely tapping a recognized strategic tension, but the updated vocabulary and examples are refreshing, a good reminder to the challenge that all companies face between satisfying the convenient now and the high-resolution, 700 horsepower, oceanfront, 24K gold plated image floating in their customers’ heads.

The Topics You’ll Find in “What Matters Now”

There is no doubt you should read all of What Matters Now, the new ebook from Seth Godin and 66 others.

I am very excited to have been offered the opportunity to contribute a piece on Focus. You can find my ode to Mr. Miyagi on page 63.

If you are not sure about wading into it, I put together a title index of the pieces you’ll find inside. That way you can download the ebook and do a search find the ones that interest you.

Title Index for What Matters Now

1% 17,
Adventure 42,
Analog 45,
Atoms 19,
Attention 48,
Autonomy 25,
Celebrate 40,
Change 50,
Compassion 33,
Confidence 54,
Connected 12,
Consequence 28,
Context 49,
Difference 60,
Dignity 8,
(Dis)trust 74,
DIY 41,
Dumb 43,
Ease 11,
Empathy 38,
Enrichment 16,
Enough 73,
Excellence 20,
Expertise 58,
Facts 7,
Fascination 59,
Fear 6,
Focus 63 (that’s me),
Forever 37,
Generosity 5,
Government 2.0 79,
Gumption 81,
Harmony 30,
I‘m Sorry 76,
Independent Diplomacy 46,
Iterative Capital 69,
Knowing 78,
Knowledge 34,
Leap 64,
Magnetize 53,
Meaning 10,
Mesh 71,
Momentum 27,
Most 21,
Neoteny 39,
Nobody 44,
Open-Source DNA 56,
Parsing 35,
Passion 51,
Poker 26,
Productivity 68,
Re-capitalism 14,
Ripple 23,
Sacrifice 62,
Sleep 77,
Slow Capital 55,
Social Skills 75,
Speaking 18,
Strengths 22,
Technology 57,
THNX 47,
Timeless 66,
Unsustainability 24,
Vision 15,
Willpower 70,
Women 65,
World-Healers 61,
You Can’t 80,
.eDO 67

Update: I added page numbers to make it a little easier to find essays. I still encourage looking through the whole ebook.

What Matters Now

Better Questions

I was in St. Louis yesterday and had the wonderful chance to catch up with a friend I hadn’t talked to in close to twenty years. She is a physical therapist and teaches at Washington University.

Our wide ranging discussion over coffee lead us to how some people are constrained by what life offers and other always look for what is possible. Professionally, that means hanging on tightly to our beliefs, whether professional, educational, or institutional versus keeping an open mind to what is possible.

My friend described the colleague she most like working with–a doctor who had no problem admitting when she didn’t know the answer and always welcomed input in diagnosis and treatment of patients. It’s the way the doctor collaborated that really struck me. Her questions matched almost perfectly the ones Matt Thompson believes we need to answer if we are to improve journalism.

Thompson says the news is really about telling what happened today, what is the new. Most doctors start by asking the same thing, “What is going on today?”

What’s missing from the news story (or the doctor’s questioning) is three things:

  1. The longstanding facts – Has this happened before?
  2. How do they know what they know? – My sources of information were…
  3. What things don’t we know? – We don’t have good explanations for…

While not explicitly following these rules, this is what the doctors go through on every episode of House.

I have been thinking about these questions as I proceed with my new projects. They seem like a good place to start with any new problem that you are trying to solve. The questions test your assumptions and through simple rigor open up the possibilities for your conclusion.

Free Friday

In the U.S. today, we see the incredible power of price on consumer behavior as millions of people storm retail stores around the country in search of bargain.

One price point being used frequently is Free. The Apple Store will give you Free shipping and $21 off the retail price of a new iPod Touch if you order it today. Best Buy will give you a Free $30 gift card and Free shipping today and tomorrow. And ToysRUs was offering a Free $50 gift card with the purchase of an iPod Touch if you got to the store today before 1PM.

I have been fascinated with Free since the July release of Chris Anderson’s book. The concept is constantly seeping into conversations about newspapers, books, music, movies, and television. And with all of the talk, we seem no better prepared to discuss Free with intelligence. The dialogue gets bogged down in incongruent comparisons of apples, oranges, and antelopes with the collision of economic theory, legal precedent, and moral consequence.

On January 7th, the six month anniversary of Free, I am going to release an ebook about the concept of Free–my attempt at clarifying the salient points around Free and provide some paths we can all use to move forward.