Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Problem of Money

Earlier this week, there is news about another reporter quitting eBay Founder Pierre Omidyar's start-up media organization, First Look Media. Pando covers this with more detail, as the larger story has been something that Paul Carr has been following for a while.

For me, there is another thematic thread here. If you think back to when they were building this organization -- the promises and the prospects -- it was kind of like the story of building a modern dream team of media players. Rock star investigative journalists all pooled together in one old-media crushing modern empire that would rewrite the laws of news and journalism. And the first thing would be to sign these all-star players to big fat new contracts.

As is often the case, fat money is a harbinger of doom. Whether you want to look at sports and the performance of athletes in a contract year versus the year after they sign their fat new contracts or those newly signed top draft picks that never actually turn out to be the next Michael Jordan.

But what's driving the mega-contract opening bid? After all, anyone who's ever bid on eBay knows that you don't open big; instead, you swoop in near the end in an effort to win by inches.

But there's a second part to this equation; what's going on inside of the head of someone that signs one of these huge contracts. On the one hand, as employees negotiating salary, it's often essential to try and get the most money that we can on the way in the door. If it's a long term hire, this number works as a base that will, most likely, be followed with a very low percentage incremental increase year after year. And if the opportunity has a short life span, it's well worth getting what you can from it while you can. That being said, the kind of hire we're talking about here is different.

Like many other Silicon Valley opportunities, when these media people are moving into this new venture, they are going start-up. They stand at the beginning of the road to building something. In the start-up world, this often translates into equity versus salary. Equity versus salary isn't just about money, it's about gambling whether money today is worth more that potential returns down the road. And that, fundamentally, is about belief in the idea, belief in the potential. To buy into return, you must see a future. This isn't like investing money. You have only one of you, one unit of your time and effort that you can commit at a time. Equity is a win or lose investment.

To that end, when you're in for equity, salary matters less because you've already bought in. You've drank the Kool-aid. Which brings us to the second question in this "all-star" relationship -- if you believe in the idea, why would you want or need fat money to make the move? And, more to the point, what does that huge offer say to you?

From the guy with the money to the guys signing on, I don't think that there was ever a shared Kool-aid experience. This has been about guns for hire and the offer you can't refuse. And when you find that kind of offer on the table in front of you, you probably don't want to refuse. Unlike a select few, most of us need an income. But when the fat money comes, remember, you're probably in for a short ride -- don't expect an in-flight meal and no need to bother with the Kool-aid.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Friday Night Lights vs The Wire

Recently, I finished binge-watching Friday Night Lights on Netflix. While I made it through the entire series, there were several times when I came really close to abandoning it. While I felt like it captured some interesting elements of the small town America story, what I had the most trouble with was the overall narrative structure. For me, Friday Night Lights stands in sharp contrast to The Wire, which we just finished watching for the first time last year. In contrast to Friday Night Lights, we didn't really binge-watch The Wire. Instead, we watched that show together, savoring each episode like the rich deep flavors of a complex dish.

My biggest problem with FNL was that it quickly became very predictable -- and not in a good way. Essentially, the story runs on a sort of sign wave, with the set-up for a character with a personal issue or a struggle, rising tension, then a resolution that returns the character to the root "good person" that we know they are. Put into a different framework, you might say good person, troubled by sin, then they face their moment of crisis, resolve and absolved. The underpinned framework is that all of these characters are good at the core, it's just these sin events that take them to bad places.

Contrast that with The Wire. In The Wire, we see characters that all have very dark sides. We have a plot line that gets set with problems and challenges. In the flow of a season, we often see a large story arc with characters thematically trying to do what they think is best for the larger good, only to see these efforts actually undermine a larger good -- one that we, as viewers, know was just around the corner. And the characters, we learn to like aspects of them, but also understand that they are not good. There is no black and white morality in The Wire; instead, it's rich with ambiguities that underscore the complexities of humanity. It's original sin. We are all tainted. It is inherent in our humanity.

For me, the contrast between these two series was so palpable, I began framing my thoughts on the two works a couple of weeks ago. But what struck me more was when I was reading the article I referenced in this previous post. In reflecting on the differences between conservative and liberal experiences with comedy and nuance, I could see more clearly why one series might be better for conservatives and one for liberals. FNL has a clearly defined moral structure. There is story and resolution. There is no nuance. In contrast, The Wire is all about nuance. There is no grand moral hand at play in The Wire.

It's not unusual for people to dislike things that we love. Opinions and tastes are diverse. At the same time, it can be challenging to internalize the idea the these same people may be experiencing those things in a completely different way. As marketers, we often draw upon empathy to imagine that we understand the thoughts and the brains around us, to experience the story through another's eyes. This is a reminder that, even as we step into another's shoes, we may be stepping into a wholly different universe where the logic and physics that we understand do not exist.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Samsung Design, Culture and the Myth of Steve Jobs

I came across this article yesterday -- a great read exploring differences between design and creative culture here in the west, contrasted against culture and business in Asia. Why Samsung Design Stinks: Blame Steve Jobs Syndrome is a nice exploration of how companies like Samsung have attempted to contract design services here, then faced issues implementing these designs into products.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Analyzing the FAIL of 'Conservative' Political Satire

This is probably the best analysis of humor and why there is no conservative version of The Daily Show. Waiting for the Conservative Jon Stewart: A unified theory of why political satire is biased toward, and talk radio is biased against, liberals in America by Oliver Morrison is truly a worthwhile read. It explores theories of humor and the differences in the kinds off storytelling that work for liberals and conservatives. If you're a marketer and you tell stories, it's probably worth reading it for that reason alone.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A few worthwhile reads

Some interesting stuff worth reading:

Here's an interesting story about the unfortunate impact those little moments that turn into viral shaming stories. It's stories about the poor person who get's crushed by the wave of a social media tsunami. The bottom line -- there are no happy endings.

From the team at Pando, here's another synopsis of how the money people have come in with the tech and washed away so much of the Bay Area culture that we used to love.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Daily Grind of a Jedi Master

In the Star Wars movies, one theme focuses on training the next generation of Jedi knights, Jedi academy if you will. But for all of the amusement, they never dive too deeply into the world of the Jedi Master -- not the cool adventure stuff, but the ongoing daily grind.

By that I mean, here you are, Jedi Master, and you've been around the block once or twice. And yet, every day you find yourself surrounded by people, students, trade-embargoing aliens, and general society riff-raff, that all seem to think they've invented a new way to get over on the universe. These are the new generation of heroes and villains, convinced that because they now have a light saber and managed to block a few training blasts with their eyes closed, they could stand against an army. Or an armada.

And so, full of energy and hubris, they race off to make their mark on history, ignoring the wisdom of the Jedi Masters, attempting to walk a tightrope of shortcuts with raw talent and enthusiasm. And when things get dire, in comes the Jedi Master to clean things up and make things right. This is the story from the Star Wars point of view. But from the Jedi Master perspective, things probably looked a bit different.

Day one: Padawan was hungry. Decided to make microwave popcorn. Set the timer for five minutes and returned to primary activity. I warned padawan about the dangers of leaving a popping problem unattended, but padawan assured me that he could sense the force in each kernel of popcorn. Three minutes in, as smoke filled the facility, everyone thinks I'm psychic.

Day two: Apprentice wants to expand search for new Jedi recruits, suggests purchasing email list. I warn the apprentice of the dangers of purchased lists and undesired email, but he proceeds despite my warnings. We spend the next two weeks getting our domain off of the spam blacklist.

Day 14: Lois in administration receives an incoming query about space debris in the Andorra cluster. Asks who should receive these types of inquiries again. I remind her that Master Xendu handles those types of inquiries. I'm really wishing there was a mind trick to make people think, not just plant a thought. Why did I become a Jedi again?

Day 22: The new crop of recruits just finished their training and are very excited. They've requested to trademark their team mission statement. The universe is doomed.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Ben Cosnocha's 10,000 Hours with Reid Hoffman

I came across this blog post about a week ago. It's like the perfect addendum to The Alliance, a book that I would describe as must read. This piece is great, another must read. One of things that I loved the most about it -- glancing back at it after sending the link to a colleague, I noticed the line at the beginning of the post letting you know about how long it would take to read it. The only thing it missed was the "your mileage may vary" caveat.

Here's the link: 10,000 Hours with Reid Hoffman: What I Learned