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Sauce Castillo & The Mondegreen

April 8, 2015

Nik Stauskas is still coming to terms with his new nickname -- and how he got it.  The NBA rookie has gone from Sacramento Kings bench-warmer to full-on marketing sensation in a week, all because of a little misunderstanding. Kings coach George Karl put Stauskas into a game last week against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers. When Stauskas took his first shot, those watching on TV noticed the broadcast's closed captioning system having some trouble with his name.  Nik Stauskas somehow became -- in white text at the top of the screen -- Sauce Castillo. People watching at home caught it right away.  It was funny.  It became a thing.   And just last night, Kings fans celebrated Sauce Castillo Night in Sacramento.  It's only a matter of time before they change the name on the back of his jersey. Sauce Castillo is the latest example of what I call "The Anxiety of Inference" -- our assumption that we can count on the systems we've built to infer what we mean to say and do. Machine learning and predictive analytics have become so sophisticated, we expect our phones will guess our next word before we type it, our cars will know where we're going before we put it in the nav, our restaurants will know what we want to eat before we order it.  If you're a smartphone, car or restaurant, that's a lot of pressure. When it comes to failed inference, Damn You Autocorrect is by far the champ.  An infinite collection of smartphones' hilarious mistaken presumptions, the site's become a rabbit hole for all of us who appreciate the beauty of computers who -- try as they may -- don't quite understand us yet.
To be fair, human beings can be just as guilty.  This VH1 site is dedicated to how much we've misunderstood our favorite songs.  And Jimmy Fallon's new show, Lip Sync Battle (Thursdays 10pm/9c on Spike TV), is filled with big stars pouring their hearts into live performances of their favorite songs -- sometimes with mistaken lyrics. When a word is misheard or misinterpreted, whether by human or computer, it creates new meaning, and that's called a mondegreen.  Here are some clsssic examples:
Infographic: Top Most Commonly Misunderstood Lyrics in Music
Sometimes we commit so completely to our misunderstanding of a song's lyrics -- even after we've been corrected -- we can't imagine the song any other way.  That's called mumpsimus. A few years ago, I gave a talk called The Poetry of Misunderstanding. I argued that mishearing, misremembering and misunderstanding sometimes lead to magical consequences.  The idea that the new thing that's created when something gets lost in translation...is sometimes more beautiful, exciting and profound than the original thing we misunderstood. Holden Caufield's misinterpretation Robert Burns' poem, Comin' Thro The Rye, lies at the heart of The Catcher In The Rye.  Jimi Hendrix loved misquoted lyrics of his songs so much, he often performed them that way in concert.  And then there's the famous mistranscription of Fall Out Boy's hit song, Sugar We're Doing Down, which I'd argue makes the song infinitely more enjoyable.
Now technology has given us another reason to laugh and celebrate, this time in the form of an unremarkable, unwitting rookie from the Sacramento Kings, who may never achieve a thing on the court, but who shall live on forever as... a sauce.

Us

A Brisk Morning & A Morning Risk

September 19, 2014

If you told me when I was a graduate student in poetry that, 20 years later, I'd be addressing someone called a "Chief Risk Officer" and his executive leadership team at one of the largest financial services institutions in the world, sharing strategies and insights on innovation and risk management... I would have told you to please not interrupt me when I'm playing NHL Hockey on my Sega Genesis. Quite a risk, this executive took in handing me the mic for an hour this morning! So there I was, bright and early, kicking off my talk by offering common ground between the risks a big bank takes and the risks media companies (like the one I work for) take. I led with a clip from Comedy Central's incredible series "Nathan For You," now wrapping up its second season. If you haven't seen the show, it's so worth checking out here. In the meantime, here's a segment from the show's already famous "Dumb Starbucks" episode, in which Nathan attempts to mitigate risk by implicating a befuddled "attorney" in his scheme.
Comedy Central's programming, lauded recently in this great piece on Vox, is filled with examples of a network taking risks -- and winning because of it.  From Key & Peele to Drunk History, not to mention the daily fearlessness of Jon Stewart, "the channel always has something worth watching," says Vox writer Todd VanDerWerff.
Yes.  And that's because there's nearly always something it bets on, something at stake, something not exactly safe.Like putting a poetry major in front of a bank's risk management team.

Us

Congratulations To Viacom’s MBY Graduates

September 18, 2014

I had a super fun time today celebrating the 151 graduates of Viacom's "Maximizing Brand You," a peer counseling and career development program that helps assistant- to director-level employees define and strengthen their own personal brand.  The year-long program has participants define their career goals and gives them the mentoring and skills they need to achieve them.

Congratulations to all of this year's graduates.  Your selfie sticks are on their way.  In the meantime, here's the shot I just took with you!


DCIM101GOPRO

News

Research You Can Walk Through

August 19, 2014

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. wpid-20140702_164900.jpg 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.
  You can read more about the CADENCE project on the Viacom blog.  And for more information, email scratch@viacom.com.    

News

The “Millennial Disruption Index” On Bloomberg TV’s Market Makers This Morning

June 13, 2014

I was a guest this morning on Bloomberg TV's show "Market Makers," hosted by Stephanie Ruhle and Erik Shatzker, where I talked about THE MILLENNIAL DISRUPTION INDEX.  It continues the discussion Scratch and Viacom started about the ongoing transformation we see in financial services at the hands of the largest generation in American history, which was first covered in Fast Company and Time Magazine.

News

150 People Knitting Boobs

May 16, 2014

It was 9am on a beautiful Friday morning in Brooklyn, four years ago, the first ever Viacommunity Day, a day of service for all employees of our company.  I was walking up to my wife's art studio with several bags of bagels.  She was expecting about 50 people that morning. Neither of us expected our CEO to be among them. But sure enough, there he was.  The first one there.  Boom. And, just like she's done wth hundreds of my colleagues since, there's Jordana, teaching him how to knit. What was she teaching him to knit?  A prosthetic breast for a cancer survivor in need. He was focused, he picked it up quickly, and with that, "Knit-A-Boob" went from a vision in Jordana's mind to a real event, something that has already made a real difference in the lives of so many, and something anybody can do. Today was Jordana's fourth annual "Knit-A-Boob" -- now a full day event, sponsored by Viacom, Oak Knit Studio, Textile Arts Center (where Jordana also serves as board president) and Breastcancer.org. Hundreds of new and experienced knitters joined together to learn about breast cancer prevention, while knitting hand-dyed cashmere prosthetics for women who have lost their breasts. "Knit-A-Boob" has inspired so many others to act.  Last year, for example, Camila Alves and CAA hosted a Knit-A-Boob event in Los Angeles. Jordana and breastcancer.org were there, teaching 75 Latina highschoolers to knit and to keep themselves healthy. Dozens of similar events have popped up across the country. It's a special thing -- for Viacom, for Jordana and for me, her husband, watching her gather a community of knitters to help teach and encourage our volunteers to produce these beautiful, personal objects.  Here's how it works: How a Boob is Made from Jordana Munk Martin on Vimeo. And here's Jordana, welcoming all the volunteers to the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn, this morning: Today, 150 people completed 25 new pairs of knitted boobs. Over the next month, Jordana and her team of knitters will complete any unfinished sets and add them to the pile. Wanna learn how to make these puppies or host an event like this of your own?  Send an email to jordana@textileartscenter.com.