Jordana and I were recently interviewed by Brooklyn Independent Media about BRIC, Brooklyn's beloved non-profit arts organization. For 35 years, BRIC's been driving and reflecting the cultural diversity and creativity of our favorite borough, led by its brilliant visionary, Leslie Schultz. From live music and performing arts (the Celebrate Brooklyn! Performing Arts Festival and BRIClab), to contemporary art exhibitions and programs, to community media programs (Brooklyn Free Speech TV, Brooklyn Independent Media, and Brooklyn Bulletin Board), it's a Brooklyn gem. Here's what we had to say about this special place: 2014 BRIC Gala - Ross Martin & Jordana Martin from Brooklyn Independent Media on Vimeo.
For years, Scratch has studied the compression of time and space between, say, a good idea and a better one; a thriving company and a dead one; instant success and precipitous failure and then (often in a reality show?) premeditated redemption. "Time's moving faster than ever," right? Sure it is, or at least if feels like that, depending on how much (food, content, stimulus, etc) you consume in a given period of time. But those who stop right there and land on "we've just got to move faster to keep up" -- are missing the point and will face extinction. The winners of the 21st century, so far, are those who obsessively pursue a deeper understanding of the ways in which Millennial consumers are calibrating their speed at every turn. Slow food and binge viewing; nap pods and Adderall; apps to consume more in less time and apps to fight distraction, the quantified self and the self #unplugged. Yesterday, Viacom's blog featured a post by Tiffany Knighten about CADENCE, a project Scratch kicked off last month to present new perspectives on the speed of life in 2014: "Open to teams across the company, as well as select partners and clients, the month-long installation – part research presentation, part museum exhibit, part art gallery – brought Viacom’s consumer insights to life in a new way. Cadence was designed to help visitors experience the unique approaches programmers, content creators, marketers and brands are taking to calibrate their moves in a culture that’s compressing time and space in more and more complicated ways." I've been excited about this for a while, for a few reasons:
- It's impossible to perform at a high level in the media business without a nuanced understanding of the velocities of culture. That sounds like a media executive taking himself too seriously on his own blog, but it's true. Most of us get it wrong, most of the time -- we're either ahead of the game, patting ourselves on the back prematurely, or we're behind it, fighting irrelevance. Stepping back to measure the distance gives us all a chance to catch our breath and look at things with colleagues and partners in a new way. Then apply what we learn to our daily work, whether we're writers, programmers, developers, marketers, designers, strategists, planners or anything in between.
- Speaking of a new way... it's exciting to see research served up to make participants feel the information as they move through it. Anne Hubert, Senior Vice President at Scratch, describes CADENCE as "truly immersive, a chance to experience life at Millennial speed, and to apply that understanding to everything we do.” Watching participants take it all in, explore the subject and raise new questions, I could see the need and the potential for bringing more subjects to light in new and exciting ways.
- An enterprising team of people from Scratch made this happen...from scratch. It's what can happen when provocative material doesn't want to live locked up in a PowerPoint deck in a conference room. The content itself inspired innovation in the way it could be manifest.
"Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear." - Jane Hischfield Ever write a sentence without knowing how it will end? Without even knowing what you "mean" to say? I find so often when I'm writing I'm cuffed by pretense and obligation. I know where everything's got to end up, what it must resolve to; it's just a matter of getting from A to B to Z. So lately I've been trying to break free, letting a sentence
go take me where it wants. When it wants, how it wants. When that happens, something opens, something comes alive.
That's what Hemingway, Poe, Falkner and Mary Shelley did.
Hemingway's words became wild journeys -- not just for readers but for the writer himself, who's caught a tiger by the tail. It's what makes writing an act of adventure.
Here's the start of the longest sentence Hemingway ever wrote, from Green Hills of Africa: “That something I cannot yet define completely but the feeling comes when you write well and truly...."
And here's how it ends, not with a stop but a stream: "...float with no significance against one single, lasting thing—the stream.”
Hemingway's third wife, Martha Gelhorn, said: "He was a genius, that uneasy word, not so much in what he wrote as in how he wrote; he liberated our written language."
Why write without aim? I like how poet Jane Hirshfield argues it enables "you flush from the deep thickets of the self some thought, feeling, comprehension, question, music, you didn’t know was in you, or in the world. You write to invite that, to make of yourself a gathering of the unexpected and, with luck, of the unexpectable."
"We live so often in a damped-down condition," as Hirschfield puts it. "The sequesters are social—convention, politeness—and personal: timidity, self-fear or self-blindness, fatigue."
One exercise I've been messing with to help me bust out of my own head -- or at least make fun of my own patterns -- is autofill on my smartphone. Every time I type an email, my phone guesses at the next word I'll use, based on the time I've had with this phone. Here, I'll write a sentence without typing a single word...
Before I even touch the screen, my phone offers me 3 words with which to start the sentence: "Emily" (my assistant), "I" (that's me), and "The." I choose "The" and am greeted by 3 next words to choose from: "truth," "research," and "wall." Fun words! This is like a choose-your-own-adventure game.
Here's the full sentence result of me choosing from the words I'm offered, without thinking much about it as I go:
"The truth is that you can explain the situation to him, but only if you aren't going to be honest with your own face."
"Honest with your own face?" Wtf is that? I don't know, but I want to know, so I will keep on writing to find out.
(Artist unknown, Brooklyn, 2013)
Long ago, in what seems like another life, a colleague much senior to me (in age, experience and level) summoned me to his office on a Friday afternoon for a "chat." Sounded ominous, and it was. I'd been working for the (unnamed) company for some time, and had achieved some early success. Enough success that I wasn't just feeling confident, I was feeling unstoppable. You might say that my ambition was showing.
Like Reese Witherspoon's character in Election. The executive, a tall man with decades of service under his Gucci belt, started by acknowledging the progress I'd made at the company: "You've got this little rocket ship, or whatever you want to call it. You're moving fast, and us corporate guys upstairs are moving so slow. You wear your sneakers and your ripped jeans and you think you're soooo cool." He was right, I did think I was kinda cool, back then. I was also -- I didn't realize it -- beginning to venture into areas of that company in which I wasn't, shall we say, welcome. Areas that weren't, as they say, part of my job. "Well," he continued, "You should realize you're one of us now. And you need to, you need to..." Oh, Lord. I've pissed off this man, big time. I've somehow disturbed his universe. Here it comes. I waited and waited for his next few words, but he seemed stuck. I stared at his shoes, which cost more than my monthly rent. "You need to know..." What did I need to know? "You need to know your, your..." I couldn't take it anymore. I finished the sentence for him: "My place?" I asked. "Yes," he said. "That's all, you can go now." As I walked out of his office and down to the elevator, I remembered a line from The Cluetrain Manifesto, co-authored by my friend, Doc Searls: "Just about all the concessions we make to work in a well-run, non-disturbing, secure, predictably successful, managed environment have to do with giving up our voice." Today I work in a place that, unlike most others, I'm never expected to give up my voice. In fact, having a voice, not giving it up -- and having enough confidence to use it to inspire others -- is probably half the reason I have my job. Last week, we had a huge idea for a client. And by "we" I don't mean me. I'm the one who heard it, developed it with my team, and ultimately pitched it. The client loved and bought it. It was huge. But the idea itself came from a colleague in an area of our company whose job description couldn't read less like a creative mandate. Someone who in most companies wouldn't even have the courage or the opportunity to express a creative idea outside her narrow lane. I used to say all the time that one of my biggest goals was to bring creativity and innovation to every area of an organization. Problem is, that kind of hubris presumes creativity and innovation aren't already present in those areas, and that I'm somehow the one who can bring it. Look closer: creativity and innovation are bubbling under every surface, thriving in every nook. It's up to each of us to find ways to unlock and unleash it. To champion ideas, no matter where they come from. And to celebrate anyone with the courage to express themselves beyond the parameters of their job description. Great people work hard. Great ideas shouldn't have to. Know your place, indeed. If where you work doesn't sound like a place that believes in the brilliance of human creative potential, maybe you're in the wrong place.
Finding the best creative talent is among the most difficult tasks any leader faces. Most of us only get it right every once in a while. There are lots of reasons why: structure, communication, timing, vibe, process. I often hear colleagues and peers lament the challenge. Where does the best creative talent come from? How do we find it? When I was asked to write a chapter for a new book called "Unscrolled," I resisted. The assignment was to interpret -- or intentionally misiniterpret -- the Bible. I'm happy to misinterpret most anything; I usually do. That's what my TED talk was about. But the Bible? Yeesh.
When the editor of the book, Roger Bennett, assigned me my portion, Exodus 35:30-35, I read it skeptically. It's the chapter in which God instructs Moses to hire a master craftsman named Bezalel (who was just 13 years old) to design and build the Tabernacle. Big job, yo! The more I read about Bezalel, the clearer it became: Bezalel was the world's first creative director. The guy wasn't just tasked with designing and overseeing the construction of the Tabernacle. He also oversaw the interior design, all materials, even the oils and ritual objects to be used in ceremony and worship. The brief was vague: "To make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts." Biggest question is, why Bezalel? Historians have struggled with that for a long time, or maybe they haven't. I was surprised to find so little critical discourse. Especially when you consider it's the best example we have of an artist deputized by God directly. For Christ's sake, Bezalel's name literally translates to "in the shadow of God." Today, deciding on who should lead your creative work can be a brutal, painstaking experience. It shouldn't be, but it is. You don't know until you dig in and get dirty whether you've chosen right. And by then it's often too late. So many ways for things not to work out. Maybe God knew that, going in. Maybe that's why the Almighty ECD first asked Moses if he was cool with Bezalel getting the job. Moses famously replied, "Lord, if he is acceptable to Thee, surely he must be so to me!" But that wasn't enough, God made Moses ask "the people" if his choice of Bezalel was acceptable to them. Turns out, it was. The people rallied around their new creative director, and the Tabernacle became, well, a hit. God imbued Bezalel with quite a bit to prepare him for the gig: "He has filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills." Not bad on a resume. More than that, though, the best creative directors know they can't be given the job by anyone, not even the boss. They have to earn it from the team. All the time. They must prove an inspired touch of the divine. And they must make everyone around them better. That's why the greatest skill God gave Bezalel was "the ability to teach others." That's exactly what Bezalel did. And in doing so, he earned the job he was given.