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 – The Power of Pull Interview with John Hagel

In this interview, I talk with John Hagel about The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion, a book he co-authored with John Seely Brown and Lang Davison.

Hagel and his cohorts at Deloitte’s Center For the Edge, a research center based in Silicon Valley, have being doing research to understand what they call The Big Shift.  Their work has uncovered a variety of insights, but the most telling is the reduced profitability of today’s corporations versus their counterparts forty years ago. We talk about how information, networks, and execution are changing the way individuals and institutions compete.

Pull is a very different approach, one that works at three primary levels, each of which builds on the others. At the most basic level, pull helps us to find and access people and resources when we need them. At a second level, pull is the ability to attract people and resources to you that are relevant and valuable, even if you were not even aware before that they existed. Think here of serendipity rather than search.

Finally, in a world of mounting pressure and unforeseen opportunities, we need to cultivate a third level of pull—the ability to pull from within ourselves the insight and performance required to more effectively achieve our potential. We can use pull to learn faster and translate that learning into rapidly improving performance, not just for ourselves, but for the people we connect with—a virtuous cycle that we can participate in.

Download Idea Arena Podcast – The Power of Pull Interview


Learning Curves

“So certain is the plummet of prices that economists have mapped the curve of their fall. The cost of making something–whether it is steel, light bulbs, airplanes, flower pots, insurance policies, or bread–will drop over time as a function of the cumulative number of units produced. The more an industry makes, the better it learns how to make them, the more the cost drops. The downward price curve, propelled by organizational learning, is sometimes called the learning curve. Although it varies slightly in each industry, generally doubling the total output of something will reduce the unit cost on average by 20%.

Smart companies will anticipate this learning curve. Very smart companies will accelerate it by increasing volumes, one way or another. Since increasing returns can exponentially expand the demand of items–doubling their totals in months–network effects speed the steep fall of prices.”

-In Follow The Free from Kevin Kelly’s New Rules for the New Economy (available for free at

“Costs Go Down” is the first section of the ebook Free to Flexible: Four Simple Lessons About Cost, Price, Margin and The Options Available to The 21st Century Business. You can download it here.

Meaning in a list?

I put together a Twitter list of all the people how gave a shout out for Fixed To Flexible.

I have been wondering if they have something in common (besides having read the ebook).

Are they all people who needed help thinking about pricing?

Do they prefer thoughts and questions rather than clear cut answers?

Are they visual learners?

Do they all share some view about the direction the world is going?

It is an experiment of sorts. I’ll let you know if I find anything.

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

SXSW – Monday

Yesterday was spent seeing people more than attending events. There are some publishing folks who live in Austin who I had breakfast and lunch with.

The one session I did get to was Making Your Blog Your Business. My friend and designer-extraordinaire Phoebe Espiritu was one of the panelists. The subject of the panel how people had turned their blogs into businesses. The sentiments reflected here were the same as many other panels.

  • Blogs allow you to aggregate demand for products and services
  • These businesses are very small and are things you do in your spare time.
  • You need to try things to see what will work

At the end of the day, I also caught How to Blog For Money by Learning From Comics. I thought it would be something interesting and different. A couple of interesting points from their talk were:

  • Merchandise works well, but can be a pain to manage
  • People often want to support sites. A site (missed the name) offered T-shirts and added micropayments. They found success with micropayments, but their merchandise sales disappeared. Apparel is much more profitable and the micropayment experiment was terminated.
  • There are tribes on the net for everything. Sometimes, these comic creators would have a storyline or reference and draw huge crowds (one mentioned Firefly). The trouble is they don’t stay. The story there is play to your audience.
  • The last one is create great content. There were all these questions on “How do I get advertisers?” and “How do you handle printing of T-shirts?” People so quickly forget that you have to make good stuff.

Tags: sxsw2006

SXSW – Sink or Swim – Five Most Important Startup Decisions

Good morning.

I am starting my day at panel on startups. It was the star power that got me. Evan (Odeo), Joshua (, Cabel (Panic), and Joel (Fog Creek) are all speaking.

This is another one of those panels that gets interesting in the Q&A.

None of them had a business background nor do they really have business plans.

Joel – Paul Graham won’t give me to a company that doesn’t have at least two co-founders.

Cabel – MacWorld Test – If you can’t explain it in a single sentence, you are screwed.

Joel – Forget about coupons and affiliate programs, write the next version of software. They generally double sales when they release a new version of software.

Joshua – The best decisions were the choices not to add features to

Cabel – They always made software that they wanted to use, either because what was out there was bad or because it didn’t exist.

Tags: sxsw2006

SXSW – Kathy Sierra

Here are streaming thoughts from Kathy Sierra on Creating Passionate Users:

It is not about the product–it is about helping them do.

What can we help people kick ass doing?

If you help users be passionate you get the some of the spillover passion.

You need to get past the brain’s crap filter.

Chemistry—people need to feel something, think about how you are communicating…weird, novel, different…keep the brain thinking that it is something important…the brain likes the unresolved. Funny..faces…beautiful…sexy…scary

Conversation beats formal lecture.

Talk to the brain not the mind…

Get people past the Suck Threshold and the Passion Threshold. There is an image of experitse, a meaningful benefit, and a series of steps to get there.

To get people to remember, you need to use emotion.

Need to balance challenge versus knowledge and skill.

How do we keep users in flow?

Get There Attention
Challenging Activity

You need levels to keep people going.

Levels don’t need to be obvious.

Hero’s Journey

  • Life is normal
  • Something happens to change that
  • Things really suck
  • Hero overcomes bad things
  • Return to the new normal

Create Playful Work

T-Shirt First Development – people want to identify themselves with you

Give them something to talk about? Make it ambiguous. Coldplay, Fair Trade, and the two black rectangles…

It doesn’t matter what they think about you…it is about how people feel about themselves.

If spend more time in flow, they have happier lives

Tags: sxsw2006

Order A Backup Drive Right Now

We purchased a backup drive for our household about a month ago. My wife has a Mac Mini and we bought the matching LaCie 250GB drive.

A couple days ago, Amy started noticing some problems with the Mini. It degraded quickly into not being able to login. I tried everything from running diagnostics to reinstalling OS X. No luck.

I made a trip to my local Apple store to give them a chance to take a look. They quickly declared the hard drive dead and replaced it.

Enter the backup drive. My wife is using Backup (need active .Mac account). All we had to do was hook-up the firewire cable between them and restore the files. It took some time (about an hour), but it was as easy as pie.

Backups use to be for servers and geeks. As more of our life ends up on our machines, we need to take precautions.

Go get yourself a external hard drive and a buy a recommended backup program. You will not regret the decision.

Rollyo Yo!

I remember hearing about Rollyo when it first launched and I couldn’t think of a way it could be useful. Walt Mossenberg reviewed it this week in WSJ and it got me thinking again.

At 800ceoread, we are always looking for good material on business books. If you do a general search, you get a couple of good hits, but I know we are missing alot of good things. So, I decided to create a Rollyo search to see if I could do better.

In my searchroll, I have all the major business publications, some good business blogs and the 800ceoread family of sites.

The short answer is that I think there is something to limiting the number of sites that are searched. I looked up “alpha dogs”, a new book from Donna Fenn. Check out the google results and the rollyo results. The Rollyo results are so much more relevant, such as finding the Inc. video interview with Fenn.

Others of you out there might similar needs, so I thought I would point you to this cool tool.

Memory Upgrade the Mac Mini

My wife and I took on the project of upgrading the memory in her Mac Mini this week. She had been complaining that she was getting the pinwheel quite a bit and that she could only have one or two programs open at a time.

I think the main memory hog for her is iPhoto. She lives in that program and has over 2200 photo and almost 3GB of data. The rate of photo taking has only increased since September, so we needed to do something.

Her original machine came with 512MB and we decided to go to 1GB. We didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter, since there is only one memory slot and the maximum you can put in is 1GB. A trip to our local CompUSA got us the 1GB upgrade for $89.99 after rebate. Not bad.

The only difficult part of the upgrade is getting the case apart. MacWorld has a great tutorial for doing the upgrade. You want to take their advice on finding the thinnest putty knives you can. I got thinnest I could at Home Depot and still had to use a razor blade scraper to get the putty knives started on each side. Once we got the case it took about 3 minutes to complete the upgrade.

She is already reporting a much better experience since the upgrade.

Our next task is getting a backup drive. I think we are going to go with the LaCie mini 250GB. It will sit nicely underneath her Mini and connect via Firewire. We can both backup our computers there, as well as archive some data we don’t use much. I’ll let you know how that goes.

We’ll look back…

We’ll look back at the last two weeks as pivotal times in digital media.

We know have price points for all digital media. I am not saying this is what media will forever cost or that it is the right price point , but this is what you can soon buy for 99 cents:

  • 20 pages of a book
  • 3 to 7 minutes of music
  • 22 minutes of video

There is a disconnect when you look at them from a production cost standpoint (i.e. books are cheap, TV is expensive). You also see something similar from a file size/bandwidth standpoint (i.e. books in KB, video in GB).

Music and video have priced their product for digital distribution.

Publishers have not. They are trying to protect their turf. I don’t see any consideration for the elimination of physical distribution and returns. This attitude is going to continue cost them share of mind and share of wallet.