Monday, February 23, 2009


Read a lot of interesting stuff today about Twitter, which seems to be tipping massively right now? About how it reflects our culture of narcissism, about its potential for presenters to enter a deeper dialogue with the audience, about getting instant updates from Shaq.

All fascinating to me, stumbling ambivalently through this technology, towards the unknown potential of our new hyperinstantconnectedness.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Happy Birthday Pop

Have not been feeling too blawgy lately - not for lack of things to say or stories to share, but a little for the lack of clarity. I mean, can you believe this world out there? I was always a little jealous I didn't get to really experience the '60s, but we got our '60s now. The palpable change, the transformation, the shifting plates - it's incredible but difficult to process cognitively. You kind of just have to let go.

Today my father would be 88 years old. My brother John posted this photo of him on his facebook page today. I love his sweet expression.

He was honorary father and grandfather to many people in Louisville. When he died, hundreds showed up from all ranks, Archbishop and bank president, rich and poor, black and white. Many strangers told me that my father was the kindest person in their life. He had an amazing capacity to receive other people's suffering.

My father was almost 44 when I was born, so I sort of caught his second act. He had already served on three fronts in two wars, raised 5 children, the oldest 19, before I came around.

I may have gotten less time with him than my brothers and sisters, but am grateful that I got to experience some of his best years. After I was born, he started a successful business, stopped drinking and smoking, rediscovered his spiritual roots, went back to college, took up writing, eventually becoming a working writer.

For me, what my father most reinforced in his life is that growth never stops and faith is always warranted.

He would be so loving what is happening in the world right now, it just makes me smile.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Facebook: friend or foe

Last week I found this article in a copy of Adbusters in the shared bathroom next to my studio.

I don't know how I feel about social networking yet. It's too early. If my evaluation were based on what's happening today, I'd agree with much of the assessment of the writer above. It's often self-absorbed, a time-waste, and in the end may foster more social loneliness than connection.

But it's early. The electric guitar was created in the 1930s, years before Hendrix or Jimmy Page or Sid Vicious were born.

Who knows what we'll end up doing with our new abilities to instantly share and connect. It's not far-fetched to imagine all of us with our iPhone-like devices, walking into any social setting, from party to church to classroom to sporting event to concert, and being able to opt-in to the thought stream in the room. It reminds me the idea behind David Bohm's Dialogue - a tool for a group to understand itself better.

More time clicky-clicking is not appealing to me. I'll stick with Jacques and Postman and Mander: screentime is not real time, but our new communication tools have delivered enhanced real time experiences. Rare, but it's happened. I think it happens when you unite digital tools + real life experiences + some sort of shared purpose.

My brother Ted told me about the pastor of his church who wrote and shared one of those "25 Things About Me" things on Facebook. It was candid and appropriately revealing. Suddenly his parishioners knew things about him that could only deepen their understanding, and maybe increase their connection to him and even enhance their experience as a parishioner. To me, that's nice. It points to the potential ways that technology can support our efforts to connect, understand each other, become whole.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tree sweaters

Fredrik Averin shared this story of two arts projects competing for media attention last week, the introduction of a $40 million dollar fine arts collection as part of Las Vegas's City Center development, featuring original works by Maya Linn, Jenny Holzer, Claes Oldenburg and others, and a few local women in Yellow Springs, Ohio who knit a sweater for a tree. Guess who got the most attention?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

What happens when you say Yes

Some of my best work experiences have involved being part of a hard-working, talented group of people who were open to collaboration. Ego disappeared, and we created work that none of us could've made individually. I don't remember ever discussing it formally, how it worked, and it was certainly never taught. The experiences seemed to happen naturally, almost accidentally, like magic.

In 12, we set out to learn whether collaborating, or creating as a group, could be learned and developed, and what affect it would have on the work.

One discipline we used to shape this way of creating was improv, specifically, improv performance. We were inspired by Mark Barden and Gary Hirsch and Scott Dawson, the first people I had heard of who were applying the rules of improv to a business setting.

Gary and his partner Brad Robertson held regular improv classes with us. They were fun for blowing off steam, but they were also an interesting way to explore some powerful ideas, sort of martials arts exercises for the creative mind: What happens if you stop worrying about yourself and try to make your partner look good? What happens if you concentrate on listening/noticing instead of talking/getting noticed? What happens when you say Yes?

Yes means, instead of behaving like a judge, evaluating incoming data as either positive or negative, you surrender your agenda and stay open to outcome. You begin to recognize undesired and unexpected things as offers you can choose to say yes to, and then ask, Now what can I do with this?

There are a few reasons this can be interesting. You can surprise yourself. You avoid wasting your energy wishing for a different reality. And in pointing the energy forward instead of creating resistance, you create flow.

Saying yes can be applied to all sorts of work beyond creating. Client wants to come to the edit? Yes. You're given a partner you don't get along with? Great. No media budget? Wonderful. The client wants to kill your campaign and start over? Great news. Reject nothing. Say yes and see what happens.

There are reasons it's hard to say yes sometimes. We're afraid we have something that can be lost or threatened. No can feel stronger, being in resistance to something. No is often the natural stance of creative people. We define ourselves by what we oppose.

But yes doesn't mean giving in or giving up who we are. On the contrary. It means recognizing that who you are can't be threatened when something new or unexpected enters the picture. As Luker used to say, "Nothing can touch you." So whatever it is, welcome it, say thank you even, and see where it takes you, where you take it.

This isn't about Suzy Sunshine making lemons out of lemonade. By saying "no," by trying to hold onto what is, we become brittle, and often miss the possibility of what might be.

I'm thinking about yes lately because Mark Barden invited me to come down to San Francisco to co-present on the topic with him at a small conference, and also because I had about half dozen things today that challenged my belief in this yes concept, from cutting off a hunk of my knuckle trying to cut a piece of rope - me and knives?! - to an exploded water heater in the basement that ruined a few portfolios.

Oh well. Yes, I guess? Sure. Yes.

If you are interested in this yes idea, you might enjoy this book.

It was written in 1979 by a guy many consider the father of improv, Keith Johnstone. It's a great, trippy intro to improv, and a manual for a radically different way of teaching and creating, built on following inexplicable urges and making the most of accidents. Super inspiring.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Everything is going to be okay

I do a lot of my thinking through conversation, and the last few days have been full of rich conversations. They all seem to be connected in one way or another to this thing that is happening to the world, this transformation and all that it brings, the joy and optimism, the fear, the resistance, the confusion.

Ah the confusion. The delightful feeling that everyone is as confused as I have been my whole life. That none of us can even begin to predict what the world will look like in five or one year. For once I don’t feel like an outsider, I feel like I am the middle of the moshpit with everyone else.

The reason I am so happy clappy is because I am certain that this transformation is headed in the direction that it’s been heading in since the beginning of time: Wholeness. Growth.

I had my doubts. I spent a few years in the cynical Adbusters crowd. In 2000, I found myself working on a high-level with Ralph Nader’s campaign. None of my work amounted to anything, but I got to travel in a van with the candidate in the last days of his campaign, and I spent election night with his staff at their headquarters.

I was attracted to Nader because he clearly spoke the truth, that the American 2-party political system had devolved into one party dominated by corporate interest.

I knew he wouldn't win. He lacked a positive vision and the angry/frumpy suit thing was off-putting to everybody but the hard core. I assumed Gore would win. Everybody did. But we thought that the solution to America's long-term prosperity meant strengthening the Democrats with an injection of far-left, socialist/collectivist values. None of us anticipated what actually would happen to move us forward. Nobody saw it coming.

Remember Barack in the early days of the campaign? No, you don’t. Unless you are Mike McCommon, the only person I know who stuck with Obama from the day he announced his candidacy. For me, I quickly dismissed him as the guy who gave a great speech in 2004 who was going to get 12% of the vote. He wasn’t radical enough. He was boring. Intellectual. He reminded me of John Kerry. No charisma. Remember those days? When we were all talking about Hillary Clinton and John Edwards and speculating as to whether Al Gore would enter the race? None of us saw it coming.

I don’t know when it flipped. Sometime before the Iowa Caucus in January.

In March I went to his rally in Portland. The first thing that struck me was the crowd, not the size of it – which was huge – but the make up of it. I had attended Clinton rallies, Nader rallies, anti-WTO rallies, Democratic rallies, and this crowd was different. It looked like America.

It was clear, watching him onstage that day, that Barack Obama had realized, This is not about me. He’s said the words himself, plenty of times, and I believe him. It takes someone with an ego problem to recognize someone who doesn’t have one.

This was not Al Gore, lecturing people who didn’t agree with him, this was not Bill Clinton – or Hillary for that matter – who think they deserve to be the president, because they can do it better than anyone else.

This was a guy in service to a simple and transcendent idea: The United States of America. Not the Good-People-of-America and the A-holes-Who-Disagree-With-Us-America, as it has been - from both sides’ perspective - since, I don’t know, Nixon? We elected an idea, an old idea, and the idea is: Us.

We thought we had to elect a Democrat, and instead we elected a democrat, a guy who believes he is servant to the People, who work out solutions based on discourse, not a guy who is convinced he owns the best idea and is going to politically manipulate the system anyway he has to in order to get it through. A guy dedicated to process, not outcome. Wow. Wow. People keep pointing to FDR and Lincoln, but I think his role models go back even farther than the that.

People keep asking me, So are you working for Barack yet? Not yet. What would you do for him? I also get asked a lot. Usually I say, I don’t know, anything that will help. But if I get the sense that someone is serious, I say that I think I could help him tell stories.

Our old stories have been shredded. That's why it's so mixed up right now. We've relied on these stories for decades, ordered our lives according to them. Work hard and you’ll get ahead. A home is your security. Save and stick with the market and one day you’ll retire.

We need new stories. Stories about what it means to be an American, what a good life is, what wealth is, what value is. Stories that reconnect us around real value and nourishment in our lives. Stories that center us in our own individual lives, and connect us to everyone else, all at once.

I’m going back to work now – busy! In some ways, I'm already working for the President, because I am working with people whose work aligns with his vision. People working towards wholeness, not separation.

Not sure what it will all add up to. Will I make enough money to support myself? Will I take a job? Will we move to DC? I don’t know. We’ll see. Faith is a big part of this thing too.

Love to all of you –


P.S. Today’s my wife’s birthday! Her mom and dad are driving up from Eugene, bringing ribs and spaghetti and meatballs, family recipes with roots in Roseto, Italy.

Tomorrow we're going to play football in the park, no kids allowed. Hope all of you have a wonderful weekend too.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Portland, failure, collaboration, openness

Too busy to blawg lately, working with Fredrik finishing up a presentation for the One project we're working on with Jesse and Priscilla.

Lots of other meetings/conversations squeezed in, all of them rich, none more than this morning's with Randy Gragg, a Portland writer who covers everything from art to architecture, city planning, design and culture. Currently Randy's the editor of Portland Spaces, a magazine/website/events entity.

I felt like a student again. Randy has some great stories and perspectives on what makes Portland tick. We talked about Portland's overwhelmingly high competence in all things, but how that ironically can make the culture averse to risk. Fear of failure.

Randy gave me an example of how that fear of failure can present itself. Portland is about to build its first new bridge across the Willamette in, what, eighty years? And it's going to be a car-free bridge - pedestrians, streetcar, lightrail and bike only. The only urban car-free bridge in the country. How cool is that?!

Back to the risk-averse thing. The designer, a rising star in bridge design, submitted two designs, which will be unveiled to the public this week.

One is a cable-stay design, a very of-the-moment bridge style - but as Randy said, a design that is in opposition to the landscape - controlled, vertical, nearly 200 feet tall.

The second design is something new, apparently there's been nothing like it. Randy called it the Wave Design - it has a much lower profile and its supporting structures undulate like a wave, integrating with the west hills that frame the city.

The wave bridge, right? Of course! Duh! But no, Randy says, he bets it will be too new, too much risk for Portland's taste. Interesting.

Then we talked about the rise of Tom McCall, a risk-taking Portland TV journalist who made a documentary about the pollution in the Willamette River in the early '60s, around the same time Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring. Shortly thereafter, McCall successfully ran for office, eventually becoming a visionary Governor of Oregon. He is famous for saying, on CBS national news, "Come visit [...] But for heaven's sake, don't move here."

Randy talked about geographic determinism, how the location of the west hills ensured the vibrancy of Portland's downtown, because the wealthy live in the desirable west hills, instead of migrating further and further away from the city, as happens in most American cities. Downtown is their front porch, so they invest in it.

Just a very interesting conversation, and it led me later in the day to walk over to Powell's to pick up three books about Portland's history, including Randy's pick for book that most captures Portland's complex character, Greater Portland, by Carl Abbott.

Then an interesting conversation with Catherine McIntyre-Velky, an old friend who I worked with at Wieden in the early nineties. She is currently working with Dion Hughes, who I mentioned in a blawg a while ago, and Mark Johnson, and together they are investigating the proliferation of collaborating that is happening in advertising and the creative industries. She's been talking with the guys from Anomaly, the Barbarian Group, and other small groups of talent, multi-disciplined, open creative people, who seem to be creating and inventing the new model of what creative companies look like.

Told Catherine that I believe collaboration is less of a behavior to be cultivated than a natural outcome of being open, which comes from the belief that everybody knows something that you don't.

It's a good time for collaboration and an even better time for openness. Not an awesome time for people who stand in its way.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Incredible dinner party

I'm working on a project for that involves building and activating a constituency of women around the issues of global health and extreme poverty, particularly in Africa.

For inspiration, I asked a bunch of friends to nominate five living women who they found inspiring/amazing/rad.

Here's the guest list:

Aung San Suu Kyi
Catherine Keener
Elizabeth Lesser
Helen Thomas
Jenny Holzer
Joan Jett
Judy Blume
Julie Taymor
Kim Gordon
Lynda Barry
Martha Stewart
Maya Angelou
Meryl Streep
Michelle Obama
Natalie Jeremijenko
Parker Posey
Phoebe Philo
Supreme Master Ching Hai
Yayoi Kusama
Yoko Ono

Who would you add?

[Postscript: I would add the woman who crocheted this ATM cover! Spotted this morning over at Backspace.]

Ta da.

After all the rigmarole with changed names and whathaveyou, Stacy Wall and Doug Halbert are soon to announce their new production company, Imperial Woodpecker.

The Imperial Woodpecker is the largest species of Woodpecker, and may or may not be extinct. There have been three unconfirmed sightings since 1954. It is a stunning bird, black and white with a red crest, and nearly two feet tall. Yeah.

Stacy and Doug will be making something also rumored-to-be extinct: the TV commercial. But they are not deterred. Their motto is FINEST TELEVISION COMMERCIALS.

Here are two commercials Stacy and Doug made at their last company. We worked together on them.

I like working with Stacy so much. He's just so smart. He became a creative director at Wieden+Kennedy when he was 23. For a brief period, he became my boss. I was three years older than him, but I sure didn't mind. Like I said, he was smart, and he made my work better.

Now he's old and scaley like me, and I still enjoy working with him, and I think we both continue to make each other's work better.

Here is the first industry ad for Imperial Woodpecker. It runs this month in Creativity.