Tag Archives: culturematics

Alchemy, the home kit

So you have a laboratory. You know a lot about contemporary culture. It’s time to move beyond the kitten video and create something more interesting, more provocative.

One of your options is what we will call the alchemical combination. This trick here is to take disparate pieces of culture and bring them together. The right combo and blammo. You have made culture out of culture.

IMG_0759Here’s a naturally-occurring piece of alchemy reported this morning on MTV. At an award show, Ray Dalton and Richard Simmons sang for a moment on camera. Ray Dalton is a young singer from Seattle. He was featured recently in a Macklemore video. His star is rising. Richard Simmons…um, well, we’re not sure what to say about Richard Simmons. Dance diet diva, perhaps?

These guys spent no more than a couple of seconds singing together and there were hundreds, actually thousands of tiny interactions at this award ceremony, but it is this one that got reported this morning on MTV. And not because there was a category on the Top 20 show this morning. But because there wasn’t.

In effect, Ray and Richard had forced their way out of the crush of all those other celebrities into the media coverage. Because there was something so…what?…about this combination. It’s precisely when you can’t quite say that the media feels it must.

Bring these two guys together and something happens in our heads. You get a little rush of vertigo. It looks as if we are looking at an act of photomontage where Ray and Richard have been edited in to the same frame. Because, well, it just feels like they come from different worlds. And we are not talking about differences of age and race, but because well this guys are so far apart in our culture, it’s hard to think about them at the same time.

We are a culture that produces lots of diversity. Here’s a little list I put together for Chief Culture Officer in 2008:

Synchronized swimming, Target, Simon Cowell, Facebook, Bryan Singer, Chinese Soft Drinks, Grammys, SNL, YouTube, Gucci, Wikipedia, Jeff Koons, Apple, Kanye West, Hulu, Francis Bacon, SxSW, Mizrahi, TypePad, Heath Ledger, Nike, Dexter, Karim Rasheed, Agent Dinozzo, Manolo Blahnik, Veronica Mars,  Arrested Development, LilWayne, Coen Bothers, Heroes, Hollywood Hills, Tina Fey, Reality TV, Chuck, Frank Ghery, Claire Bennet, Friendfeed, mashable, Thievery Corporation, Twitter, tagging, Henry Jenkins, Milton Glaser, Monk, LastFM, Second Life, Cherry Chapstick, Hannah Montana, Panic At The Disco, Design, Watch Men, iPhone, Xbox, Shoe Gazy, Andy Samberg, Joss Whedon, Ellen, Anime, hip hop, Ollie, Rolling, Cut And Paste, Entertainment Weekly, Matador Records, Tim Gunn, Yahoo, Damien Hurst, Audrey Hepburn, IDEO, Ashton Kutcher, Twilight, synchronous, SMS, Bollywood, Mickey Rourke, Christopher Guest, Ownage, MMORPG, Rastaman, Red vs Blue. (pp. 54-55)

How does one culture produce this much difference? Well, never mind that now. Lucky for us but it does. And the fact that it does open up these alchemical opportunities we were talking about.

We could almost take any two…and stand back. Simon Cowell and Bryan Singer. Jeff Koons and Kanye West. Second Life and Manolo Blahnik.  Entertaining both elements in the same thought is hard. Giving a crisp account of both elements (to a visiting Martian, say) would take effortful acts of exposition. (It’s also interesting to note that we are not just various but dynamic.  At least 1/4 of these elements are courting obscurity, especially Ashton Kutcher who surely will not survive his disastrous miscasting as Steve Jobs.)

Mickey Rourke, Christopher Guest. It makes my head hurt.  Have a go.  Make culture out of culture by creating a little short circuit, collapsing the distance between one this and that other that. In a perfect world, life will imitate art, and in a celebrity hungry culture, the two parties will find one another and cameras will roll. It’s not just alchemists who like to culture out of culture.

For more on how to make culture, see my book Culturematic, by clicking HERE.

Wok+Wine, eating as a sociological activity

You are up to your elbows in jumbo shrimp. You’re shelling and that makes a mess. You’re eating with your hands, and that really makes a mess. You are surrounded by people you don’t know, talking about stuff you don’t always grasp. “What,” asks a voice in your head, “am I doing here?”

Wok+Wine is an experiment in social chemistry. Peter Mandeno, one of the founders, wanted to see what would happen if he brought together people with diverse perspectives and divergent interests. What would happen, he asked, if you put a VC, a material scientist, a fashion designer, a teacher, and an author at the same table.

Good things, apparently.

Please come to HBR for the rest of this post.  Click here

Jump Ship Rat and other great moments in metaphor

I’m reading a book called Cultural Hijack: Rethinking Intervention and on page 282 I found this poem in which a group of artists compare their organization to the rat. 

I reproduce it here without permission. Because it is so very, very brilliant, and your introduction to Jump Ship Rat, their work, and the book in question.

Jump Ship Rat
ability to move in any direction
with speed and agility
and fit through the narrowest of entrance/exit points
or to make them appear
ability to recognize when the ship you’re on is in trouble
to survive
to be held in wildly different regard
to be vilified
to be used to understand the human condition
to be able to startle human senses
to be open to misinterpretation
to be clearly recognized and understood
to have power and strength in numbers
to make a distinctive noise
to be heard
to be part of the night
daytime appearances to be committed to memory
public consciousness to be affected
to become immune to poison
to survive many efforts to be eradicated
to be mythologized
and exaggerated
made folklore
warning to society
pied piper is Santa Claus
occupation of disused spaces
unswerving pursuit of life
celebrating what others disregard
living in slums and palaces
the underground home
great fucking tunes
social shifts
cultural exchange
time changes
mean time
jump ship rat

For more on this group, see their website here.  

To order the book (and you should), see the Amazon page for same here.

My Culturematic talk given at TEDxHarlem

Here’s my TEDxHarlem presentation.  I talk about the state of cultural innovation, how its changing and how Culturematics are one way to do this innovation now.  



Fed Ex as a game engine

This is the delivery schedule I got this morning from Amazon.  I’m waiting for a pair of headphones.  As you can see, these are “out for delivery” and should arrive today.

I looked at this and thought, “but surely there’s a game waiting to happen here.”  It would take a detailed knowledge of Amazon delivery routes and membership in Amazon’s “free delivery” club, but it should be possible to game the system.  (I should leave this to the likes of Kevin Slavin and Jamin Warren, but lets see how far I can get on my own.)

Using FedEx as a game engine opens several possibilities.  For instance, we would see how close we could come to making two packages pass in transit.  Could we make two packages run through Maspeth, New York at the same time?

Here’s what we know:

1) The system is out there and moving packages in any case.

2) We can discover where a package was at any given moment.

3) We can use this data to work the delivery system.

4) This mechanical system could be used for some other purpose.  We can set objectives and competitions.  

This is a culturematic in the spirit of Bill Winkenbach’s Fantasy sports invention.  Bill said, look, the NFL throws off all this data.  Let’s use it for another purpose.  Let’s use to create an alternate sports reality.  

So working the system as a system is really just the beginning.  We could treat packages as game pieces on a chess board.  We could treat them as balls in a pinball machine.  We could set up one of those flash boards that pinball machines have and run up numbers as someone succeeds in sending a package to Maspeth, then Hartford.  Oh, damn, he missed Stratford!

FedEx as a game engine.  That’s the idea, I think.  

Culturematics come to tourism

Please come have a look at my latest post at the Harvard Business Review “Conversation.”

With the Nextpedition, AmEx appears to be taking a Culturematic approach, taking out the predictable and adding in surprise.

See the post by CLICKING HERE.

Innovation the culturematic way

Here’s my recent post on the HBR website.  

It’s about a clever renovation at the St. Regis hotel.

This is, I believe, a great example of creating innovation through a knowledge of culture and a shift in perspective.

See the full text by CLICKING HERE.