Crowdsourcing: Proof that Ayn Rand Got (at least some of) It Wrong?

ayn-rand-660_0When Paul Ryan appeared on the Republican ticket last fall, two familiar words burst onto the scene like popcorn: Ayn Rand.

Like for many others, Ayn Rand burst into my life at 19, and I lapped up her entire cannon like a plate of cream. Twice. But the world has changed a lot since I fell for the ideal of hyper-individualism.

It’s not that the Internet Age proves she got it wrong. In fact, it shows that Ayn Rand got a whole lot right. She said the human will is amazing and that freedom and opportunity make it flourish.

Working in social technology, I see how right she was. There’s a deep passion for human ingenuity in this business. Where the stakes are high, the talent is top notch and the work product is fantastic.

Yet there’s another group that plays just as important a role in the Information Age: The crowd.

I can’t help but wonder what Ayn Rand would have to say about the phenomenon of crowdsourcing where the work product comes from an undefined group of mostly (pardon my language, Ayn) volunteers?

Crowdsourcing is the process of tapping the collective for ideas. Turns out, the collective gives them up like gumballs, asks little or nothing in return, and before you know it we have wonderful things like Apache Software and Wikipedia.

The Internet Age shows us what Ayn Rand would call an irrational force—the desire to serve—rocks! I can get Wikipedia on my iPhone instantly for free. The Encyclopedia Britannica, before it went out of print, was cumbersome, expensive, and made the book shelves sag.

When Ayn Rand asks who should benefit from our output, she offers two choices: You or me. Today’s answer is both. The power of the crowd is proof. Sometimes providing value for others is personal gain.

I’d like to think a John Galt of this century would have been among the first to spot the power of the crowd. He dedicated his life, after all, to the pursuit of an inexhaustible supply of cheap energy.

This article was originally aired as a KQED listener perspective.

Right Brain – Left Brain Integration

right_brain_integrationLast fall, it was data-driven marketing I declared as the new black when I cited a recent NYT article glamorizing what had traditionally been the realm of geeky good with numbers types (like, ahem, yours truly). Data-driven marketers, it said, are a hot new business persona that looks something like Madison Ave. meets Wall Street: Don Draper meets Gordon Gecko. At last! Those who actually enjoy manipulating spreadsheets, know the difference between a mean and a median, love to talk about outliers and statistical confidence, experimental design and hypothesis-driven adaptive strategies could come out. “Hi my name is Bonnie and I’m a dataholoic,” I could finally admit—and become fashionable!

This fall, I’ve discovered that the right brain is the new black and I’m just as thrilled. “Hi my name is Bonnie and I’m a closet creative,” I can proclaim with dignity. What’s hot this year? Emotion, context and meaning. Story telling, passion, values and experience—all very right brain and very, very fun.

But wait – am I a dataholic or a closet creative? Could I perhaps be both? A great way to find out is to ask yourself is, “Do I think in words (analytical/left brain) or pictures (creative/right brain)?”

My assessment is that I am both. I had to stop and think when that question was put to me recently. I didn’t have an immediate idea as to whether my thought patterns were language-driven or pictorial. I was told that those who stumble over this question and hesitate to choose are indeed both—equally right and left brain oriented.

It seemed a tough pill to swallow. For my left brain, anyway. It likes definition, categories, simple and neat explanations. Pondering upon this, I lamented that I can never claim complete loyalty to either side of my brain, destined as I am to live in both hemispheres, born of mixed-hemisity, bi-hemisual (don’t you love coining a neologism? very right-brain), living half my consciousness in linear analysis, words, language and the other in non-linear synthesis, pictures, and possibilities.

But then my right brain remembered a catch phrase I heard a year or two ago, “We need to stop chasing either/or and start reaching for and.” And I realized: Being bi-hemisual means I can don which ever is in season—right brain or left—and look equally as fetching.

Right Brain Workout

right_brain_workoutSpeaking of right brain, I recently had the good fortune to work with an interesting social business, TeamWorks. Far outside my B2B marketing technology wheelhouse, the positioning and awareness building done for this cooperative business network was a welcome stretch for me and a rare opportunity to go full-on right brain with the production of a new video declaring for TeamWorks who they are, what they do and where they’re headed. I wrote, produced, directed and edited this 8-minute piece for an audience of potential donors and advisors—in two very full weeks—giving my right brain one mother of an exhilarating workout. Check Out TeamWorks on YouTube.

BTW: TeamWorks is a very cool organization in a burgeoning, dynamic and very interesting space: Social business. These are typically for-profit businesses, but guided by a social mission. In TeamWorks’ case, the mission is to reduce poverty. TeamWorks gives traditionally low-wage service workers an opportunity to get out of poverty by helping them to start and run employee-owned business cooperatives.

Right Brain Renaissance

right_brain_renaissanceIn A Secret History of Consciousness, Gary Lachman (among many other very interesting musings) muses that the Internet could be the harbinger of a right brain renaissance. The decisively non-linear, highly contextualized way content is displayed and digested online, he says, moves markedly away from its hugely linear predecessor, the printed page.

Language functions such as grammar and vocabulary have long been attributed to the same hemisphere said to control linear reasoning—the left. But because the way we consume information while moving across web pages involves not just language, but visual and audio cues across many more complex spatial relationships, it’s the right hemisphere that’s getting the workout when we go online.

What’s more, the right brain tends to kick in more when presented with novelty while the left takes over the more routine processes. With its constantly emerging nature, the Internet is nothing if not constantly novel, apparently giving more right brains more exercise since, according to Lachman, the advent of language.

The Internet has long since been identified as an economic game-changer, profoundly impacting not only product innovation, but employment distribution, shopping patterns, manufacturing priorities and, of course, social interactions. Could it be so all-powerful, so far reaching that it could substantially change the way we use our brains? If, as Lachman professes, consciousness and the mechanisms for learning are indeed one in the same, totally interdependent and constantly emerging, no doubt future historians will claim the dawn of the Internet era as at least as influential to man’s development as the acquisition of language, tools and agriculture.

BTW: Gary Lachman was the lead guitarist for Blondie throughout the 70s and 80s, now lives in London and is the tireless chronicler of culture, consciousness, mysticism and the occult.

Getting Value from Social Media: It Takes a Mindshift

social_media_mindshiftA great point in this latest post on building community from Twist Image is that building value through social media requires more of a mind-shift than anything else.

Organizational culture is often the biggest roadblock to getting leverage out of any new media or technology. Fiefdoms exist, silos exist. Although many companies claim to be strongly “matrixed” organizations, there is still sorrowfully little sense of community in our own diverse workplace—how can we expect to build communities across the incredibly enormous and disparate world of blogging and social networking online?

A mind-shift is precisely what’s required. Twist Image rightly points out that old school marketing meant buying attention. New school, including social media marketing, means earning it. For many companies, that requires not only a mind-shift, but a meaningful shift in corporate culture.

Earning attention in the marketplace today means asking what it needs and serving it up. Blogs and social communities online are a constantly refreshed databank of customer needs, wants, feedback and sentiment. With a service-oriented mindset, progressive companies can make a very good business out of serving those stated needs, delivering real value that the market truly wants.

THE best practice in social media marketing is to add value. Approach engaging the market through social media from a thoroughly customer-centric mindset and you will never be disappointed with the return.

Marketing and Uncle Siggy

imgresFrom hidden desires to public relations, from subliminal advertising to lifestyle marketing, from consumerism to politics this BBC documentary is a must-see for all marketers. The Century of Self is a four-part examination of how Freudian-informed strategies adopted by marketers and politicians have for the better part of a century manipulated mass consumer and voting behavior by appealing to our unconscious hopes and fears.

Are we a people slavishly ensnared in libidinous forces of aggression and the desire for power? Does democracy only work within a culture of “happiness machines”, a docile, satisfied population who demand emotional fulfillment as consumers and expect it as citizens? Do we really even want the responsibility of rational thought when making our purchase decisions or casting our votes?

The Century of Self is a frank examination of 20th Century marketing and its role in the birth of individualism. And if nothing else, it’s a provocative retrospective of our trade. Covering the rise of all things marketing from focus group testing to polling to market segmentation, we see the evolution of our craft over time from its antecedents in WWI propaganda through its embrace of EST principles in the 1970s.

The Zen Internet

balance

  • The very transitoriness of the Internet is a sign of its perfection
  • To the mind which lets go and moves with the flow of change, transience becomes ecstasy
  • Rebirth from moment to moment reincarnates the value afresh each moment
  • To hold the Internet is to loose it
  • The Internet is miraculously natural without trying to be so
  • The pleasant and the painful are inseparable
  • To learn is to survive to become ignorant
  • The Internet essence is immediate and instantaneous
  • The ultimate reality of the Internet cannot become the object of knowledge
  • Living in the Internet is a constant awareness of watching
  • An awakening to the startlingly obvious may occur at any moment
  • Rigid control shuts out the experience of learning
  • Ends are achieved neither through repression nor indulgence
  • Regarding each new manifestation as our home puts us at home in each new manifestation
  • The Internet unfolds as we walk upon it