Beyond SoLoMo

I can take a photo of a check and deposit it in my bank account, then turn around and find a new book through a Twitter link and buy it, all while being surveilled by a drone in Afghanistan and keeping track of how many steps I’ve walked.

The question is, as it has always been: now what?

via The Jig Is Up: Time to Get Past Facebook and Invent a New Future – Alexis Madrigal – Technology – The Atlantic.

Alexis Madrigal looks at what lies beyond social-local-mobile.

What is a Book? On Publishing, Books, and Video

Photo by Sam BR

Seth Godin argued in a recent blog post that publishers need to revisit their assumptions about what “books” are…and by extension what their jobs entail. This is an important point, because it actually shows one potential way forward for an industry that is struggling to create value as its traditional business environment changes underfoot.

Book publishing, like the newspaper business, and the music business before it, is threatened by outmoded business models, new competitors, digital distribution, and the rise of substitutes for consumers. Barriers to creating and distributing a book have fallen so far that, as Clay Shirky says about publishing:

Publishing is not evolving. Publishing is going away. Because the word “publishing” means a cadre of professionals who are taking on the incredible difficulty and complexity and expense of making something public. That’s not a job anymore. That’s a button. There’s a button that says “publish,” and when you press it, it’s done.

So what does a savvy publisher do? Godin argues that publishers should redirect the curatorial, editorial, and marketing skills they have towards other projects that may not take the form of a traditional print book. He uses the short film “Caine’s Arcade” as an example.

Caine’s Arcade from Nirvan Mullick on Vimeo.


It’s worth noting that more people have spent ten minutes watching this film in the last week than have read all but a handful of books over the same period of time. And even more profoundly, that this short film has raised almost $200,000 for the star’s college fund without really trying.

Conceptually, this is a book.

…the act of finding Caine, of investing in a short film, of bringing that idea to the public–it’s stuff like that that publishers are actually quite good at–the format and the economics will change, but the risky act of bringing ideas to the public is what publishers do.

This is an important skill in a world where video is just as important as text. The creators of “The New Liberal Arts” argue that video literacy is one critical skillset for our era.

Basic literacy—reading and writing text—is no longer enough. Now, all media is transmitted through the window of a glowing screen. Television and web video have become dominant modes of communication and even print news media rely increasingly on video to show us “truth.” Understanding video is essential to participating in modern society.

The future of publishing may well involve scaling the ability to find, shape, and ship narrative-driven multimedia projects, which sounds a lot more like an emerging business than a dying one. All publishers should take a cue from Godin and ask themselves: What is a book?

Business Model Innovation Factory book

Saul Kaplan, founder of the Business Innovation Factory organization and conference series, has a new book out on reinventing business — the Business Model Innovation Factory, launching on April 24.

The business model innovation movement overall has built a literacy around articulating and then experimenting with how businesses create value — e.g. see the Business Model Canvas. Kaplan and BIF have been great champions of collaborative innovation in the enterprise, so I’m looking forward to seeing how they take these ideas forward.  Intro and TOC embedded below. See more at


Effective Interaction Designers Change Organizations

Why is it that when we try to solve immediate problems around technology (“we need to fix social media,”  “people can’t find stuff on our website”), inevitably we find they are symptoms of larger systemic challenges? Jonathan Kahn of web firm Together London articulates how the web is changing the fabric of organizations, and how the task of interaction designers is to help organizations manage systemic change.



UBC Sauder Alumni Mag Profile

I am thrilled and honored to be featured alongside Ryan Beedie, Gregg Saretsky, and Livia Mahler in the current UBC Sauder School of Business alumni magazine cover story on entrepreneurship and innovation. What company! I hope to accomplish half of what they have been able to achieve in their careers. Here’s to the many other Sauder entrepreneurs out there!

Chris Coldewey – UBC Sauder Viewpoints Profile { var scribd = document.createElement(“script”); scribd.type = “text/javascript”; scribd.async = true; scribd.src = “”; var s = document.getElementsByTagName(“script”)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(scribd, s); })();

Chris Coldewey – UBC Sauder Viewpoints Profile PDF (alt link)

UBC Sauder Viewpoints site

Full text of the article:


Red Rovr, Red Rovr, We call Chris Coldewey over


With half an eye on the Twitter stream scrolling by one night a few years ago, Chris Coldewey realized with a start that a favourite band, Fleet Foxes, had not only slipped into town for a concert unbeknownst to him, but were playing another show that night just down the road in Seattle.

The MBA 2010 graduate had built a solid resume around futurism and corporate strategy, and felt attracted to the entrepreneurial energy in Vancouver. “With a lot of strategy consulting and scenario planning under my belt I wanted to get experience in the tech startup world and build something myself,” Chris recalls.

Drawn to the idea of a shiny new object in the form of a company, Chris conceived the idea of RedRovr in 2010, a tool to help fans bring the people and the bands they were interested in to where they live. Originally focused on bringing musicians and their followers together, the idea quickly grew to include speakers, authors, and other celebrities.

(Pull quote) “The seed came out of social media tools such as Twitter, which is a fantastic power tool for people who are thought-leaders in any area, allowing them to directly interact with fans. I noticed people who were starting to use these tools in new way, including connecting with fans from around the world.”

web, Chris has course-corrected as he learned more from his users and customers. “I initially focused on helping fans request speakers and bands to come to town. But I found that venues and event organizers wanted to use RedRovr to ask fans who should play at their club or speak at their event, so I am developing that now.”

Chris cites the example of bestselling author and entrepreneur Seth Godin, who started reaching out to his readers and fans, to ask them where they thought he should come and speak. Less formally, luminaries such as author Guy Kawasaki have been known to ditch hotel room service and evening email, in favour of adding a tweet-up (when an online conversation evolves into an informal real-life gathering, usually between people who have connected on the social media platform,Twitter) on to a major keynote presentation.

Chris describes an emerging trend of social networking online—the “interest graph”: not only are you and all your friends connected on Facebook, but others you might be interested in, for reasons other than personal, are also there. These are people you may be connected to incidentally through real-world friendships, work, or geography, but primarily—and perhaps only—because you share similar interests. He sees it as a nexus, where different interests and fields come together—an intersection of real-world event planning, trends, and people. “RedRovr is about activating your interest graph—helping you discover other people in your city who share your interests in people or bands and make something happen together.

“Part of my ongoing strategy consulting work has been paying attention to these sort of early indicators of an unfolding future. Sometimes that’s a data point, but often it’s people who are pointing the way,” reflects Chris, mentioning thought leaders such as author and futurist Kevin Kelley, and social media consultant/author Chris Brogan, as examples of those living in the future. “You can see these outliers interacting with tools differently, making different kinds of choices; harbingers of where we are going.” He references Seth Godin again, who is walking away from the publishing world and trying to reinvent publishing in a more participatory manner.

An entrepreneur in the truest sense of the word, Chris has seized an opportunity out of the democratizing force of the Internet, where the voices of customers can now be better heard by companies. “Social media is all about learning from customers, trying to engage with customers. RedRovr is about giving people a platform to tell you what they want. I had a lot of conversations to get me to that point!”

Alongside RedRovr, Chris advises organizations on innovation and technology strategy. “I am currently working with one of the UN aid agencies to develop an internal innovation system—surfacing needs and ideas from field operations and connecting them with external partners and resources. One of the greatest challenges large organizations face now is how to operate lean, fast, and creatively—essentially like a web startup. Having a foot in both worlds lets me apply expertise from one to the other.”

When he is not dreaming and scheming about RedRovr, or a quiver of other ideas, Chris spends time with his wife Beth, one-year-old son Obie, and says daddy Chris has learned to operate on very little sleep, if he has to. “When I can get away, I go mountain biking on Vancouver’s North Shore, snowboarding at Whistler, or do a CrossFit workout,” he says. ”My best ideas come to me when I am outside, so it’s good for my health and my work.”

“Sauder helped me solidify a toolkit of operational and critical thinking skills that I bring to bear on my work every day.Through the MBA program I met some fantastic people— both students and professors—and got plugged in to the Vancouver tech community.”


Start me up

Entrepreneur Chris Coldewey offers his tips on web startups.

1. Get a team you feel comfortable with. That can just be two people, but in areas where innovation is key, you want a team with capacity. The dynamic partnership is helpful for developing new ideas, products, services and business models. You can bounce ideas off each other and take advantage of different skill sets.

2. Connect to the resources around you. Sauder has a great network, in alumni, and as a school. Professor Thomas Hellman’s technology entrepreneurship classes were fantastic for bringing engineering graduate students together with MBA students in an intensive class to create new products and new businesses. Then they brought in a who’s-who of BC venture capitalists, angels, entrepreneurs, and successful company CEOs to react to these ideas and potentially fund some of them. Vancouver has tons of resources for startups, from Meetup Groups to coworking spaces to startup accelerator GrowLab.

3. On the product side, be ready to reiterate. By definition, innovation is an experiment. Nobody knows the right answer, and it’s rare to hit the nail on the head right away. Being good at innovation means figuring out how to experiment in smart ways. You have to reiterate your product vision: engage with customers, find out if there’s a different customer segment that’s actually much more profitable or much more engaged with your product. Or look at innovations in other sectors and see if you can bring those into the one you are trying to enter.

4. Bring your Sauder skills to the table. In economics class we studied two-sided markets— platforms with two different user types where network effects increase the value to each as the two sides grow. Think about the challenge of marketplaces in general. In the case of RedRovr, fans want speakers to be on the site, and speakers want fans. So I have to design features that attract the segment that is harder to get, so that the easier-to-get segment will just follow along.

Strategy vs. Business Model innovation

A post on the Innovation Excellence blog asks, “Is business model innovation just another name for strategy?” The author, John Steen, answers in the affirmative in the case of incremental innovation, but argues that radical business model reinvention reaches beyond the conventional strategy toolkit.

I think that strategy and business model innovation diverges when we talk about radical business model innovation. Why? Because strategy is still based upon conventional thinking about planning, prediction and measurement. Moving to very different business models needs the tools and concepts from innovation management rather than predictions and plans from strategy textbooks. Tools such as real options and the three horizons will help stage the innovation process to reduce downside risk and capture the upside. Innovation jams and lead-users might be useful to get new ideas on other business models. Stage-gate methods might enable us to trial new business models and scale up as some models show signs of being successful.

Five Dysfunctions of a Digital Team

When an organization’s external digital presence is inconsistent or incoherent, this is nearly always a symptom of deeper internal structural problems, such as:

Silos: The people responsible for digital work are isolated from the rest of the organization. They can’t get the information they need to support other teams/departments until it’s too late. The digital lead or team ends up becoming a quick-turn-around production team expected to blast emails without strategic input or considerations for member engagement. The digital lead may not be seated at a high enough level within the organization to be proactive, or the digital staff may be a sub-unit of an existing team that has a director who does not represent digital well for leadership or cross-team planning opportunities.

Personality Fit: You have the wrong person in the digital role—he/she may have some historically appropriate skills but otherwise brings the wrong attitude and is unable to work collaboratively with others. Digital work interfaces with all aspects of an organization, so the person responsible must be open-minded, solutions-oriented, and ideally a delight to work with. If your digital lead creates resistance, or seems conditioned to say “no” more than “let’s figure this out,” you are—at best—stifling the growth of your organization’s digital program. At worst, you are enabling the growth of a toxic environment around digital work, and your organization may spend years trying to recover.

Overload: The digital lead or team has too much to do and is unable to prioritize work. This is one of the most common conditions we see. Your leadership may have undue expectations for how long R&D or even basic online operations should take, and they don’t know how many requests are coming in from all angles. Often the digital team isn’t the right size to keep up with increasing demands, or the digital lead is unable to prioritize the work on their own. Sometimes, they don’t know how to say no to requests that are unrealistic or that don’t fit their vision (if they have one—see the next point). Leadership can exacerbate the overload by asking the digital lead to chase after new bells and whistles, which they may not have the confidence or experience to push back on.

Lack of digital vision: The underlying issue beneath overload is typically the lack of a framework to strategically prioritize resources for digital work. Every organization needs a digital vision to set a direction that supports the core mission and business goals of the institution, and to evaluate whether the inevitable new tools, creative ideas, and campaigns “fit” with the strategic approach and should be undertaken. Strong digital teams prioritize new opportunities—and kill bad ones—using a simple rubric of “viability and fit.” To measure viability, they need to be experienced and networked enough to know what’s going to work in the digital world, and empowered enough to stand up to people who don’t. To measure fit requires this vision.

Lack of organizational vision: The problem may not actually be with the digital team at all. A good digital communications or engagement strategy can’t compensate for a missing organizational vision or outdated theory of change, both of which have to come before you can establish a digital framework. If you can’t clearly articulate what your organization is specifically trying to change in the world, how to realistically achieve that change through your current actions, and how your supporters can play a meaningful role in making that change happen, then you’re just asking your digital team to create pseudo engagement with increasingly meaningless actions. It may be the toughest thing to do, but spend some time re-evaluating your overall game plan, offerings, brand story, and engagement model, and then re-evaluate your digital work to support that.

Great analysis and advice regarding challenges in managing and governing the digital function in organizations – by Jason Mogus (@mogusmoves) of Communicopia, Michael Silberman (@silbatron) of Greenpeace, and Christopher Roy (@christopherroy) of Communicopia and Open Directions. Don’t miss the followup piece on Four Models for Managing Digital.

Why innovation resists codification

The latest book on [design thinking] is Designing for Growth, a “design thinking toolkit for managers” and it provides a pretty good snapshot of how people are thinking about the discipline right now. Namely, that the reins of design thinking lie firmly in the hands of executives. In this world, design thinking is shorthand for the process implemented in a more creatively driven type of workshop, one involving visual thinking, iteration and prototyping. In this world, you don’t have to be a designer to be a design thinker, and the process has been codified as a repeatable, reusable business framework.

This is all, arguably, fine. But mostly it unwittingly highlights the true tension at the heart of the design thinking debate. A codified, repeatable, reusable practice contradicts the nature of innovation, which requires difficult, uncomfortable work to challenge the status quo of an industry or, at the very least, an organization. Executives are understandably looking for tidy ways to guarantee their innovation efforts — but they’d be better off coming to terms with the fact that there aren’t any.

Helen Walters of Doblin on the challenges of integrating design thinking into business.

Associating. Questioning. Observing. Networking. Experimenting.

Clay Christensen and coauthors write in The Innovator’s DNA about “what makes innovators different.” They point to five skills or behaviors:

First and foremost, innovators count on a cognitive skill that we call “associational thinking” or simply “associating.” Associating happens as the brain tries to synthesize and make sense of novel inputs. It helps innovators discover new directions by making connections across seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas. Innovative breakthroughs often happen at the intersection of diverse disciplines and fields. Author Frans Johanssen described this phenomenon as “the Medici effect,” referring to the creative explosion in Florence when the Medici family brought together creators from a wide range of disciplines—sculptors, scientist, poets, philosophers, painters, and architects. As these individuals connected, they created new ideas at the intersection of their respective fields, thereby spawning the Renaissance, one of the most innovative eras in history. Put simply, innovative thinkers connect fields, problems, or ideas that others find unrelated.

The other four discovery skills trigger associational thinking by helping innovators increase their stock of building-block ideas from which innovative ideas spring. Specifically, innovators engage the following behavioral skills more frequently:

Questioning. Innovators are consummate questioners who show a passion for inquiry. Their queries frequently challenge the status quo, just as [Apple Inc. co-founder Steve] Jobs did when he asked, “Why does a computer need a fan?” They love to ask, “If we tried this, what would happen?” Innovators, like Jobs, ask questions to understand how things really are today, why they are that way, and how they might be changed or disrupted. Collectively, their questions provoke new insights, connections, possibilities, and directions. We found that innovators consistently demonstrate a high Q/A ratio, where questions (Q) not only outnumber answers (A) in a typical conversation, but are valued at least as highly as good answers.

Observing. Innovators are also intense observers. They carefully watch the world around them—including customers, products, services, technologies, and companies—and the observations help them gain insights into and ideas for new ways of doing things. Jobs’s observation trip to Xerox PARC provided the germ of insight that was the catalyst for both the Macintosh’s innovative operating system and mouse, and Apple’s current OSX operating system.

Networking. Innovators spend a lot of time and energy finding and testing ideas through a diverse network of individuals who vary wildly in their backgrounds and perspectives. Rather than simply doing social networking or networking for resources, they actively search for new ideas by talking to people who may offer a radically different view of things. For example, Jobs talked with an Apple Fellow named Alan Kay, who told him to “go visit these crazy guys up in San Rafael, California.” The crazy guys were Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray, who headed up a small computer graphics operation called Industrial Light & Magic (the group created special effects for George Lucas’s movies). Fascinated by their operation, Jobs bought Industrial Light & Magic for $10 million, renamed it Pixar, and eventually took it public for $1 billion. Had he never chatted with Kay, he would never have wound up purchasing Pixar, and the world might never have thrilled to wonderful animated films like Toy Story,WALL-E, and Up.

Experimenting. Finally, innovators are constantly trying out new experiences and piloting new ideas. Experimenters unceasingly explore the world intellectually and experientially, holding convictions at bay and testing hypotheses along the way. They visit new places, try new things, seek new information, and experiment to learn new things. Jobs, for example, has tried new experiences all his life—from meditation and living in an ashram in India to dropping in on a calligraphy class at Reed College. All these varied experiences would later trigger ideas for innovations at Apple Computer. Collectively, these discovery skills—the cognitive skill of associating and the behavioral skills of questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting—constitute what we call the innovator’s DNA, or the code for generating innovative business ideas.




Tim Harford is a Financial Times columnist and the presenter of Radio 4’s More or Less, which won the Royal Statistical Society’s 2010 award for statistical excellence in broadcast journalism. He is also the author of several books, including The Undercover Economist. His latest is Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.

Cory Doctorow: First of all, some context — what’s the thesis of Adapt, and how does it refine, extend or improve upon The Undercover Economist?

Tim Harford: The Undercover Economist was a book about the economic principles behind everyday life, from the way Starbucks prices drinks to the rise of China. Adapt isn’t primarily an economics book at all — it’s a book about how complex problems are solved. (If ideas from economics help, great. But sometimes they don’t.)

That said, the two books start from a very similar place: describing the amazing complexity of the economy that produces the everyday objects which surround us. In Undercover it was a cappuccino, and in Adapt I describe a memorable project in which a student called Thomas Thwaites attempts to build a simple toaster from scratch. But in Adapt this complexity isn’t just a cause for a “wow, cool” moment — it’s a headache, because it’s a measure of the obstacles facing anyone who wants to solve problems in this very intricate, interconnected world.

Ultimately Adapt argues that the only way forward is experimentation, which can either be formal or ad hoc. Whether we’re talking about poverty in Nigeria or innovation in Boston, solutions tend to evolve rather than be designed in some burst of awesome genius. And then the question is — what do we need to encourage those experiments?