I’m struggling to get back into the blog saddle after several weeks of travel and madness. I’m cooking up a couple special posts soon, but I wanted to take a moment and welcome all the newcomers who are happening upon Must. Be. AWESOME!!! for the first time.

WELCOME! :D

I just returned from four days in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I attended the Sister Cities International (SCI) Annual Conference. I am a raging fan of Sister Cities, as you will see from some future blog posts, and I’m very proud to announce that I’ve been elected to SCI’s Board of Directors. This is a big deal to me as I’m following in the footsteps of my AWESOME mother, Mae Ferguson, who not only served on the board but acted as its president for two AWESOME years. I had an amazing time in ABQ where I met hundreds of new friends and colleagues from all over the world.

If you’re one of those new sisters or brothers, and you’re coming to the blog for the first time, I hope you enjoy it. I’m always open to feedback, so feel free to holler at me in the comments section of any post or via the contact form. I can’t wait to talk to you more!

This is Must. Be. AWESOME!!! Dot com.

Outgoing SCI Chairman (and personal friend & mentor to me), Mike Hyatt, from Albuquerque.

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Sign outside the lecture hall at the American Art Museum where Darwyn spoke.

I never got a chance to blog about Darwyn Cooke‘s lecture at The Smithsonian American Art Museum a couple months ago during the Snowmageddon. Instead, I thought I’d share a couple of the notes I furiously typed into my iPhone during the event and some pics I managed to snap. Apologies ahead: I own a first gen iPhone 3G and the camera sucks, so picture quality is kinda meh.

He speaks with a gravelly voice, like the chief of a newspaper or a Parker-like character from a film noir. He’s reed thin and possessed of a certain class, as if he’s living in the same ’60s of which he so adoringly speaks. He wears a crisp suit and looks comfortable and smooth.

Cooke did all his own lettering for his adaptation of "The Hunter."

He gets choked up when he speaks of Westlake. He’s visibly awed by the legendary writer’s effect on him, how Westlake became the wonderful person Cooke always hoped he’d be. His voice cracks when he mentions Westlake, and his droopy, hound dog face grows longer. There’s much love in this man.

Cooke regaling us with tales of AWESOME.

He tells a story of how he remembers the smell of his dad’s Old Spice cologne. His father would put on a jacket and tie to go dancing with his mom.

Cooke reads from Donald Westlake's original novel, "The Hunter"

Cooke’s 1960s is chock full of art, where furniture and cars are individual masterpieces along with typography, book covers, and more. To Cooke, things just looked good in the ’60s… as opposed to the boring little metal boxes people drive around in today.

A page from Cooke's "The Hunter"

Cooke shuns the label “creator” or “artist.” To him, he’s an entertainer. A storyteller. A workman-like view towards his chose profession: no nonsense and no pretense.

“You can’t sell Red Tornado comics to real people. They wanna read about… skiing!”

Regarding technology, Cooke spoke of how animated the title sequence to Batman Beyond on a Mac in his spare bedroom. It blew traditional animators’ and media techs’ minds at Warner Brothers, who had up until that time, shunned the use of such devices to develop new animation.

Darwyn Cooke, ladies and gentlemen.

Cooke pointing out the elements of AWESOME in his work.

Darwyn sketched Parker when he autographed my copy of "The Hunter"

Darwyn also sketched Green Lantern when he autographed my Absolute Edition of his masterpiece "DC: The New Frontier"

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Submitted for your consideration, this strange, esoteric photo of a long-since-lost cocktail napkin, which features a doodle. Not just any doodle from anyone, but the rendering of a story I once told to a table full of colleagues. Said story remains a point of hilarity between these sober gentlemen, and I shan’t tell it but for the price of future good company and cocktails.

This AWESOME is brought to you by Mike Tomai.

Thanks to Mike Tomai, an irregular dude with some irregular skills, for visualizing.

Welcome to all of my new readers and visitors, and thanks for making my work here a better basket of radness. I hope you stick around for more AWESOME.

Here’s to better places…

View from the balcony of our suite at the Omni Royal Orleans in the French Quarter, New Orleans. March 2010.

This is Must. Be. AWESOME!!! Dot com.

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I’m using this post as a testing ground of sorts with which to work out the design of my 5-minute Gov 2.0 Expo talk on May 25th, 2010. As a result what you are about to read may seem random and disjointed at first. Fair warning.

I think what I’ll probably do is develop the case study as a full-on post for Must. Be. AWESOME!!! so that interested folks from the expo can come here and read through the entire narrative. What I’ll need to do then is make the 5-minute preso more of a pitch for people to come back and get the full effect. Plus, it’ll be a great place to start a conversation about the Tech Team, share experiences, continue analyzing, etc.

Original Pitch

“Instituting a Culture of AWESOME in Government: The Case of the IED Task Force Tech Team”

  • Purpose 1: Demonstrate how gov entities can exude AWESOME
  • Purpose 2: Extract lessons (positive & negative) from case study
  • Contraints: 45-min preso time shortened to 5 minutes — warrants major curtailing in presentation of findings

Major Themes in Research/Interviews

  • Righteous mission: helping to save soldiers’ lives
  • Brotherhood: team exceptionally loyal to one another, inside & outside of work
  • Fellowship: people & job were fun – weekly happy hours & grill-outs
  • Leadership: BG Votel  and LTC Jost took risks, backed up his people every time

Lessons Learned

  • The right mix of personalities will enable AWESOME in any enterprise.
  • AWESOME activity creates swarm of “antibodies” (naysayers, can’t-do’s, etc).
  • People will give 18hrs/day if the activity is AWESOME.
  • Small, super-empowered teams can change everything if given the chance.
  • Cults of personality and rabid positivity will engender loyalty between all echelons.
  • Middle management worked for team members, not vice versa.
  • The business of AWESOME is inherently and unavoidably social.
  • Ad hoc, task force structure engendered agility, effectiveness, & ownership.
  • Permanizing the organization destroyed team cohesion & introduced stagnation & irrelevance.

Unanswered Questions

  • How transferrable is this case to other parts of government?
  • If JIEDDO was borne of the Tech Team / JIEDDTF, then wasn’t the organization a failure? (because JIEDDO pretty much sucks today)

The IED Task Force Tech Team (circa 2004)

A note on formatting: I’m also currently fooling around with Prezi, a new web-based system of designing presentations that purports to help design better presentations by forcing you to think creatively, visually, and using mind-mapping techniques. The videos make it seem pretty cool, and I was considering using this for my Gov 2.0 preso. However, I’m concerned that the Gov 2.0 staff isn’t ready for the newness of Prezi (I’m not even sure of the file formats supported), and I’ve only got a few weeks to play around with it. Further, despite the New York Times‘ recent story on how tired of PowerPoint everyone in the Defense establishment is, everyone’s still using it and everyone’s used to seeing it.

In 5 minutes’ time, I’m not even sure the benefits of Prezi would be worth it. Still, I may do a longer version of the talk in Prezi to post here on the blog at a later date. We’ll have to see what the future demand looks like for this case study.

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I am a huge proponent of the concept of social business design, or the calibration of a business according to social objectives (as opposed to profit objectives). The thinking in this area, oft spearheaded by people from The Dachis Group, addresses the social imperatives inherent in any use of social media or social networking technology.

Last week, I got the chance to participate in Social Business Edge, an event organized by blogger and thinker Stowe Boyd, that explored the furthest envelopes of thinking about social business design. The overarching theme of this event involved the very act of being social and how humans, as social creatures, must begin to structure their businesses to accommodate that fact. Social networking technology has enabled such enterprises of the future that industrial era business is slowly becoming more ineffective, unpopular, and unprofitable.

The ever-awesome Deanna Zandt and host Stowe Boyd talking about something rad.

Social business will necessitate a fundamental redefinition of “work.” People, for example, will trade productivity for connectedness every time… but this leads to previously unseen new levels of productivity.

Another common theme involved how business 1.0 used war as a metaphor. Social business, some argued, should be considered “village building” instead of “army raising.” The traditional business goal of achieving maximum profit margins was shunned in favor of collective dialogue between everyone in a business ecosystem: executive, employee, customer, and so on.

Baratunde Thurston, one of the chief minds behind The Onion, argued that creativity and humor sit at the center of social interactions. He used several examples on Twitter of how one can use humor on Twitter to galvanize community building. (Check out @baratunde‘s Twitter lists. One example is a “twitcom” where users came together to create an on-the-fly Twitter sitcom using many obvious sitcom stereotypes.)

I really responded to Baratunde’s in-your-face presentation. Here’s a guy who makes his living “not giving a shit and outright hating” his audience (his words!). He’s one more AWESOME influencer I can point to who catalyzes us to do our own thing… even when that thing is terribly foul. Despite the naysayers and the language police, Baratunde’s work on The Onion and elsewhere continues to bring in the clicks.

Baratunde Thurston telling people to get their fuck-off on.

The event featured several other amazing presenters including John Hagel III (who brainfucked me with his AWESOME talk about the future of knowledge in social networks); Venessa Miemis, a Twitter acquaintance who is harnessing the collective power of her connections (and their connections, thereby socially steamrolling) into a video chat-based Junto; and Lee Bryant, CEO of Headshift (a social business company that Dachis recently acquired). I think Lee’s preso best exemplified the themes and takeaways of the day, and he graciously made it available for embed below. Lee talked at length about why businesses should be social and how to recognize the individuals within an organization that will advocate social business change.

I had a great time in New York meeting and hanging out with the Social Business Edge presenters and attendees. This was a group of thinkers and doers whose influence challenges me to think in different ways about social business. I think one of the hallmarks of the social business age is an inherent ability to lean forward into one’s network and not absorb the knowledge that network transfers but act upon it and improve it. As a social animal myself, I already picked up conversations with many of these folks on Twitter (which seems to be the popular social media tool of choice for conversation-replicant dialogue). I can’t wait to “do some business” with these peeps in the near future.

Check out the hashtag #sbenyc for more livetweets from Social Business Edge. I have also embedded Lee Bryant’s video preso below. Below that, I’ve added a number of additional observations about the event that I collated in a trip report for The Rendon Group.

Additional insights from the event:

  • Social business is not about closing deals; it’s about collectively enhancing your group’s social capital and expand the resulting relationships.
  • Social businesses will attain social capital (and eventually profit from that) by opening their systems and processes to their communities and demystifying themselves.
  • Customers will tell you how to sell to them if you treat them socially, as members of a greater community or ecosystem… and NOT as faceless masses.
  • New business models are warranted: command-and-control structures create massive costs versus open and distributed models.
  • Passion is equally proportional to connectedness. However, passion does not equal happiness. Some of the most passionate people in organizations are the most frustrated because they see what is possible and are unable to move the organization to attain those possibilities.
  • Debi Klein of Communispace briefed a company case study on how she creates closed, researchable online communities to conduct market intelligence. For teenage boys, they do this for brands like Axe & Gilette by starting a private online community for boys to talk about getting girls. This listening technique is a valuable source of business intelligence.
  • Unanswered question: How do you resource social business? Many of the techniques involved require lots of overhead and pre-investment. There was no discussion of how current businesses budget for such transformation.

Updated to include video of John Hagel III’s AWESOME talk. Pay attention to what he says about knowledge flows (versus stocks) and change driven by vision (versus threats):


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Submitted for your consideration…

We now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

This is Must. Be. AWESOME!!! Dot com.

In this information overloaded culture in 2010, Our Foul Year of the Interwebz, the noise to signal ratio has never been higher. Anyone who communicates on the web these days faces a growing competitive landscape across different media, so much so that it becomes necessary to develop and nurture trust networks amongst one’s social familiars to even have a slight hope of getting your content seen (much less acted upon).

Courtesy of Chris Sims of The Invincible Super Blog

Courtesy of Chris Sims of The Invincible Super Blog

While said trust networks naturally develop audience loyalty and attention over time, there is another method you can employ that will guarantee eyeballs on your content.

Make your fucking content ENTERTAINING.

At the end of the day, people are going to remember the stuff that makes ‘em laugh or tickles their AWESOME bone. As a content provider, you should be aiming to deliver entertaining stuff every time. You want everyone who stumbles across your content to come away having the same reaction you did when you walked out of the opening day IMAX screening of The Dark Knight: “THAT WAS FUCKING AWESOME!!!”

Entertainment enables AWESOME. You must perform. You have to raise your game to match and beat web personalities like Gary Vaynerchuk, whose every video blog is a blast to watch even if you don’t immediately dig his content (which caters to wine). You have to transcend this homogenization of social capital across the web and bring thunder like you’re a goddamn Greek god.

I’ll challenge you to take an even further step out on the ledge: your entertainment must be provocative. Don’t just think that by adding a soundtrack to your podcast you’re automatically more entertaining. What kind of music is it? Is it AWESOME? Do your listeners rock out to it and pay more attention to your content because of it? Using provocative methods like dirty words, shocking images, and flat-out ballsy boldness will punch your signal past all the other noise.

Many will decry my endorsement of such methods as mere shock tactics; causing controversy to draw an audience in. Well, no shit, sherlock. Content providers are competing against so many different channels of entertainment today that you must enable some Shock and Ahhh to be heard. This doesn’t mean you should let these tactics overshadow your content or your message. You can be entertaining, shocking, memorable, and deliver great stuff people will love.

Here are some examples of AWESOME entertainment across a couple different online media:

  • Chris Sims’ Invincible Super-Blog raises the bar on comics commentary by incorporating funny, often ridiculous instances of comics AWESOMENESS. Chris likes his comics full of punches and kicks, and not just normal punches and kicks, but punches and kicks delivered in the most insane ways possible. Ergo, the Punisher punching a polar bear.
Cant have that.

"Cuddly. Lovable. Docile. That won't do at all."

  • Jon Stewart transformed the face of mainstream media and news through the simple art of making fun of it. The Daily Show provides a hilarious take on current events and the personalities that report on them. Comedy Central wisely made all episodes of this show available via its website as more and more of its audience professed that they get their news from The Daily Show versus other traditional news reporting.
  • The maestros at The Cheezbuger Network took photo editing comedy to the next level with Comixed.com. In this new crowdsourcing experiment in hilarity, Comixed encourages people to remix 3-4 photos into panels that tell a story (similar to a Japanese manga technique explained here). This entertaining site has birthed several great new internet memes like “The Reaction Guys.”
The Reaction Guys

The Reaction Guys

I confess I’m having a tough time finding some badass examples of online music or podcasting that really flip my shitbiscuits. If you have any suggestions for AWESOME content I should be paying attention, by all means comment away.

Now, I admit I’m just as guilty of not being as entertaining as I could be on this blog. We’re gonna change that today. If the above pics and links weren’t AWESOME enough for you, let me leave you with this little bit of Alec Baldwin love that never gets old:

Welcome to 2010. I’m coming for YOU.

My resolution this year is to make everything I do AWESOME. I will launch an AWESOME consultancy. I will publish an AWESOME book. I will deliver AWESOME content to the readers of this blog. I will get married…AWESOMELY.

In this, Our Year of AWESOME, I invite YOU to join me.

Photo by Sarah Austin

Photo by Sarah Austin

This is Must. Be. AWESOME!!! Dot Com.

Required Reading for the New Year:

There’s been a slow, creeping movement in DC these past few years to renovate the way we think about government. The Gov 2.0 Summit and Expo, put on by O’Reilly Media and TechWeb, drew a monstrous crowd of people last year to explore challenges, requirements, and strategies for adapting the phenomena we associate with the social media movement to the government of the future.

I just submitted a Must.Be.AWESOME!!! pitch for the Gov 2.0 Expo in May 2010. My topic is called Instituting a Culture of AWESOME in Government. The approach I intend to take on this preso involves analyzing a case study of how  AWESOME can exist and flourish in government today. I chose to use a very specific case study, one near and dear to my own heart: my experience with the IED Task Force Tech Team from January 2003 to April 2006.

Du4 pretending to be King Shit at the old Tech Team trailer

Du4 pretending to be King Shit at the old Tech Team trailer

My intent behind examining the Tech Team stems from the entire team’s own reminiscences about our time there. Not a single one of these exceptional people would tell you that working on this team was anything less than AWESOME. The team’s mission was to seek out, evaluate, and rapidly equip lifesaving counter-IED technology to American soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. There were long hours and a lot of opposition to our methods (our approach basically bucked and made irrelevant the entire Army acquisition system), but our cause was just and we celebrated it joyfully every day.

I’m really looking forward to digging into this study. It gives me a chance to catch up with a lot of my original teammates, all of whom left an indelible mark on me due to their profound professionalism and loyalty. I loved working with these guys, and I’d lay down in traffic for ‘em any day. That’s the kind of culture we need to instill in government today.

With some luck, my submission will get picked up by the Gov 2.0 folks, and I can get to work putting together a badass preso. I’ll blog about how it’s going as new developments occur; maybe something I’m looking into will help YOU in instituting a culture of AWESOME in your own organizations.