The Farm Aquatic with Dan Barber

Because it works on so many levels, this talk by Dan Barber was by far my favorite of TED 2010.  

Without spoiling the talk for you, I love the way Barber takes us on a walk through his life, and has a conversation with us all along the way.  And it's a funny one at that.  His insights changed the way I think about the relationship between oceans and food; prior to this I did not recognize that one could create an aquatic version of Polyface Farm.  Amazing.

This talk is also a master class in public speaking.  No, in public story telling.  This talk defines the bar by which we should measure pitches for a cause.  This is how to start a movement, how to get people to sit up and take notice, take action.

Awesome.  And now I'd like to try some of that Spanish fish…

Little acts go a long way

I've had the pleasure of hanging out with Sean Bonner recently, as we've both been participating in Neoteny Singapore Camp 1 for the past few days. 

We spent a fun afternoon on Monday having some design reviews with entrepreneurial student teams at Nanyang Technological University (if you want to see a cool example of some killer startup thinking and doing coming out of Singapore, check out Phokki ).  We wrapped up the afternoon by debriefing with faculty members over some bubble tea in the student canteen, where Sean shot this photo:


This placard is affixed to each and every table in the canteen.  I like it because it comes off feeling okay and not too big-brotherish relative to what it could have been.  The messaging here is very subtle, and its author would make a great brand manager.  The use of the word "hog" makes it feel less institutional than these things usually sound like, and the quote in bold is a nice signoff.  This small sign felt friendly but focused, just like all the folks at NTU.  I maintain that, at that end of the day, the power of a brand comes down to how you make people feel, and that those feelings are driven much more by the sum of many fractal interactions than by the positioning statement on your website. 

Good marketing, my friends.

Brad, Conan, and me

What do us three hunks have in common?  The answer is easy and natural:  we're all (former) proud owners of a Ford Taurus SHO. 

Mine was an 89 with a chalky black finish.  A good car with a fabulous, fabulous motor. The best device ever conceived by mankind for laying some patch.  On a cold Oregon winter highway, in the dark and in the wet, I could shoot huge rooster tails of sparks out from the slipping studs of my winter Michelins on steel wheels.  Oh, the romance.

Sadly, the Taurus brand isn't what it used to be.  Years of being the default choice of rental agencies will do that to your brand equity.  And at a personal level of branding, to admit in public that you loved an SHO is something akin to admitting that you used to play with GI Joe dolls. But hey, it's all true.  I'm not afraid to say that I loved driving my SHO, and I hated parting with it.  The day the truck came to my house to take it away, I made sure I was away for the afternoon so that I didn't have to be a witness to the act.

At what point do you release yourself from brand snobbery and just live your life, do what you want, buy what you want, consume what you want when you want?  Hopefully one of the outcomes of this big economic reset will be a relaxing of our emphasis on brand value, with a shift toward intrinsic value. I think there will be more freedom to be you and me, with more acceptance of those of us with strange tastes or less appetite for consumption (I drove my SHO for 12 very good years — and only one clutch).

I mean, look how happy Brad looked as he peeled out in his new whip.  Isn't that what it's all about?

Hyundai is the New BMW

Yesterday's announcement by BMW that it is leaving Formula 1 as part of a brand repositioning focused on sustainability and viability leaves a market niche open for driver's cars. I actually agree with BMW's move based on long-term societal trends, but for the next 5-10 years I think the "Ultimate Driving Machine" niche will still exist and be a profitable one.

So in to the market vacuum left by BMW, I hereby nominate Hyundai as its successor. If you are laughing at that suggestion, take three minutes to watch this inspiring video of Rhys Millen setting a new Pikes Peak hill climb record in his Hyundai Genesis (albeit a modified one):

Great performance brands are forged in the heat of competition. Hyundai, your forge master is Millen.

My favorite new web destination

The Book Seer

Metacool The Book Seer

I really like this site.  From a functional perspective, it doesn't do anything that Amazon doesn't try and do for me.  Based on a knowledge of what I've read, it dishes up future reading suggestions:

Metacool Book Seer result

The list of book recommendations it cranked out here is very good, almost as good as what Amazon would dish up, because it does in fact use Amazon to generate the list of books to be read (though unlike Amazon, The Book Seer doesn't know that I already have three of these in my possession, especially the last one by Jeff Zwart, which is particularly gnarly and a treasured part of my stash.  But I digress).

The difference for me lies in the beard.  That beard.  Oh my, what a beard!  The kid in me just can't get enough of typing words in this gent's mouth and having him soothsay a future arc of literary interactions.  It's so Monty Python, so retro yet right here, so not Web 2.0-ish.  At the end of the day, The Book Seer makes me feel good by injecting a little dose levity and eccentricity in to my week, and one could do a lot worse than that.  By comparison, Amazon is cold and clinical, and is always trying to sell me something.  Helping me find a good book in a fun way feels a lot better than being on the receiving end of multple cross-sell offers crammed down my throat.

It's a great example of Principle 3 in practice.

Please help us kill gas in Palo Alto! CIA 2009!


A student team from our Creating Infectious Action (CIA) class at the Stanford needs your help:  they are trying to create a movement to transform part of downtown Palo Alto in to a pedestrian zone.  Here's their idea:

Imagine this: University Ave–
from High to Cowper– transformed into a pedestrian-only urban park
complete with outdoor restaurants, street performances, community
events, trees and gardens, and bike-friendly infrastructure.

Initiative seeks to do more than just block University Ave. We aim to
tear up the road and create a unified and truly beautiful community
space. Cities all over the nation and Europe demonstrate the success of
Pedestrian Malls. They revitalize business, encourage alternative
transportation, and reinforce a sense of community. It's an all-win

I like how this team has used the design thinking process to end up with the creation of this movement as a goal.  Given a short but sweet design brief to go "Kill Gas", this team spent a lot of time hanging out with business owners, store workers, and citizens on the street in downtown Palo Alto.  They prototyped various solutions, and kept learning as they went.  They ended up with several very interesting design directions, and picked the pedestrian-only urban park as the way to go.  I think they were wise, for two reasons. 

First, this direction, executed well (which we'll see — the quarter isn't over yet!), has strong potential to knock it out of the park across what I consider to be the three key principles behind creating infectious action:

  1. create a remarkable offering:  a pedestrian-only zone in Palo Alto!
  2. weave sticky stories around the offering:  "tear up the road and create a unified and truly beautiful community space"
  3. identify communities receptive to points 1 & 2, then light some small fires, and then spend time pouring gas on those fires:  this is where you come in

Second, I think a pedestrian-only zone in Palo Alto would be a Good Thing.  I grew up in Boulder, where part of Pearl Street was transformed in to a pedestrian mall when I was a kid.  A few decades later, it's still the beating heart of the town, a fun place to be in touch with the community.

Here's where they need your help:  if they can gather 1,000 pledges of interest by May 27, a former mayor of Palo Alto will take their multi-stage implementation plan before the city government.  As I write this, they have 883 887 supporters and four days to go.  It would be awesome to see them blow through the 1,000 barrier in a big way. 

If you would like to support this team and their cause, you can do it in one of the following ways:

  1. Join the Facebook group Palo Alto Pedestrian Mall
  2. You can sign their online petition here
  3. Or send a text message to: 67463

Last but not least, please print out this flyer and stick it on your front lawn or in the back window of your car.

Thanks for helping this remarkable movement catch on fire!

If you use Twitter, please consider tweeting this blog post to help spread the word!  And if you blog, a post mentioning the movement would be much appreciated!  Mahalo.


Paul Bennett & Egill Helgason on design thinking, Iceland, the future of the world economy, and a whole bunch of other important topics

I'd be posting these videos even if Paul Bennett and I weren't colleagues at IDEO, so rich and fascinating is this conversation between Paul and Egill Helgason, the host of the Icelandic show Silfur Eglis.  Design thinking is a central theme of their time together, and they touch on many important topics of the day, including transparency, community, and how we might move ourselves out of this mess.  It's definitely worth a listen.

And don't worry — it's all in English!  Enjoy.

Innovating under our noses

I saw two cool things today which renewed my faith in the ability of us all to innovate anywhere.  There are tons of things right under our noses which would benefit from a rethink.  Today's examples come from two organizations that usually go by their three initials.

The first is Apple's brilliant rethink of "banner" and "skyscraper" ads in the online version of the New York Times:

Metacool Apple NYT ad

In these ads, the PC and the Mac guys on the right interact with the Apple Customer Experience banner on the top, and then with the bald guy from the Sopranos in the "Hair Growth Academy" ad on the left.  It's funny, witty, clever, and catchy.  And it's the first web ad I've clicked on in, well… forever.  It's a nice example of an incremental innovation, and I'd love to see the resulting web metrics.

The second piece of inspiration is the Intern Auction being held by Crispin Porter + Bogusky on eBay:


Not only is it a fun way to raise awareness of CP+B's intern program, but it also provides a market check on the value of an internship to clients.  Just to be clear, the auction is to buy the services of the intern, not to buy the internship itself.  I wonder how much more the internship would sell for in that latter mode?

Thanks to both the NYT and CP+B for an making this an inspirational Monday.

Leading tribes, cultivating a movement

This is the second of my favorite talks coming out of this year's TED conference.  Seth Godin takes us through his ideas about leading tribes.  I think he does a fabulous job of describing a different way of leading, a way that seems like the perfect fit to our highly networked, interconnected, and (potentially) interdependent world.

His three questions at 14:15 are priceless.

You can't manage a movement.  But you can lead one, even cultivate one.  Don't be a sheepwalker — try and lead the tribe that matters most to you.