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Becoming Real by Adam Greenfield Part 3

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We've talked about failure but you know, I'm really not that interested in failure. Intellectually, I'm interested in failure of course but not personally interested in failure. I think we'd rather talk about how project succeed and in particular, how things become Real. So I want to talk briefly and lightly about five strategies. Five strategies that we can see that actually do help things move swiftly and efficiently from idea to an object in the world. The first one is probably the most obvious and it's hard to speak about because it's so obvious and it's this. Seek investment. Capitalize. Design your value proposition in such a way as to attract venture capital from outside investors. And you can see that I've put a dotted white line around the money because money helps things become Real. It does, there's no two ways about this. It's really, really hard to do anything without money. But for the purposes of this strategy we're talking about, we're talking about a very specific kind of money. We're talking about the kind of money that web startups typically seek. Or startup companies in general. Or that product entrepreneurs seek. Venture capital. An outside investor who comes in and is willing to underwrite your idea becoming a reality but at a cost. And it's undeniable that capital is enormously helpful with recruitment. Capital helps the process of recruitment enormously. It means, for one thing, that you're able to hire specialists. I mean, if you don't have the money at all, you can't hire the specialist you need and you're out of luck. Obviously, the more money you have, the better off you are, because you can attract more capable actors. If you are Canon and you have access to a reasonably high amount of money, you can attract a Jasper Morrison. You can afford to pay a world class talent. From what I've seen, it's not necessarily a guarantee of success, but it absolutely helps to be able to say, as a matter of fact, just being able to release a press release that says "Jasper Morrison is doing something for us" is a significant step in bringing something closer to reality. Just being able to say that in itself, attracts credibility, it attracts attention, it attracts interest, and it brings something that much closer to being Real. But, outside money may have disproportionate influence. Money has a gravitational field like the planet Jupiter it warps everything around it. And this is specifically what I mean by that. Let's say that we've got a great idea. You think it's an amazing idea. You think it will sell very well. And you're able to attract investors to that. And the investors are willing to put their money into the project but only under the terms of some very specific conditions. Outside investors of this sort are typically interested in what they call "an exit strategy". They're interested in a relatively quick exit at a relatively high multiple. They're not interested in things which are slow, steady, and profitable. They're not interested in things which are undramatic and go on in the background, year after year. They're not interested necessarily in things that make people's lives better. What they're looking for is a quick hit and a tidy exit at a high multiple. They're looking at something they can sell that could increase the value of the company, so much so that when they sell that company when they flip it a year or two later, their original investment is multiplied by ten, a hundred, a thousand times. So they will take they will take the idea and shape it to the requirements of the exist strategy that they have in mind. Now, whether or not that exit strategy has anything to do with your original idea you aren't necessarily going to say the moment the money people enter the picture. So, the thing absolutely becomes Real but the price of the fact is that it doesn't resemble your original vision any longer. As a matter of fact, you might not even be involved with the company any longer. This happens all the time in technology. The original managers of the company are pushed out when "adult supervision" arrives, when the "money people" show up. You, personally, as the originator of the idea, might find yourself a minority investor in your own proposition. So, this is definitely a strategy that results in something Real but if you're like me, it's not that attractive because you're interested in your ideas seeing the world, not what's going to make the investors wealthy. This might be too high a cost to pay. There's also this fact: That very many worthy projects will be of absolutely no interest to investors. There are many things in the world that deserve to be in the world that no investor is going to offer you money to do because it doesn't give them what they're looking for in terms of the exit. So that's not a strategy for everyone. Strategy two is to learn the art of compromise. It's to be a little bit less like me, a little bit less insistent. You remember when I said that my book wasn't all that satisfying to me? It wasn't satisfying because it turns out that, I didn't merely want to write a book and publish it, I wanted to write and publish a book that was beautiful. I wanted to write and publish a book that didn't merely have good ideas on the pages but the pages themselves were made out of nice, quality paper, that the cover was attractive. And that the thing itself was an attractive object that people wanted to own. And as it turns out, I wasn't able to design it to the level that I expected to. So, the thing became Real but it didn't really resemble what I had in my heart. This strategy is the opposite. This strategy is saying, "Okay well what I really want is to publish a book" and it doesn't really matter what the thing looks like. As a matter of fact, my success criteria my metric for success is that the thing is available for sale. It doesn't matter how ugly it is, it doesn't matter if it's printed on toilet paper. All I care about is that it's published. So the art of compromise is definitely a way to see things Real. In both cases, as we've seen, things became Real but reached the market in an unrecognizable form. For some people, this is not going to matter. To others, and I think to the people most likely in this room, that's not good enough. So we need additional strategies. Strategy 3 isn't DIY, Do It Yourself, it's DEY, Do Everything Yourself. Do every single thing yourself. That way you can guarantee that if you don't ever have to recruit anybody or if you can pay people to do exactly what you say, the ideas stay the same all the way down the line and it hits the market exactly as you had intended it to. And just in case you don't believe that this can be done commercially, I have some Beautiful Evidence for you. This is a guy named Ed Tufte. Ed Tufte is an information designer. He's a fearless information designer, a critical information designer. He had some ideas that he wanted to publish in book form but the graphics that he wanted to display along with those ideas were in multiple colors, and he wanted a particular size and format for the book to be printed, and it had to be a particular kind of paper so that the colors would show up. And as he first tried to recruit publishers to this vision, he failed. No publisher, he found, was willing to take a chance on publishing his book to the standards that he insisted on. So Strategy 2 was not for him. He was not about the art of compromise. He really, profoundly believed that it was important that his book looked the way he had in mind. He was so sure of it that he invested his own money in publishing it. He founded something called Graphics Press. It's extraordinarily influential to my wife and I. The idea that he had enough confidence in what he was doing to say, I believe there is a commercial case to be made for this even if it is very expensive to produce these books. As it turns out, and we now know, that his confidence was justified. That he was correct. So many people bought his book that he's been able to publish four additional books since. All of which are extraordinarily beautiful and all of which are published to the very, very highest standards. All of which every penny of the profit of this project goes towards him and his Graphics Press because he did everything himself Now, for those of us who are not geniuses like Ed Tufte, and for those of us who might not have the money to invest into doing everything our self, we're not necessarily going to be able to do that. DEY is, again, not for everybody. So, is there another way? Is there another way of doing things? Here are two additional strategies that I've been looking at recently, that really inspire me. Draw existing things together. Take things that already exist in the world and combine them in new, interesting ways. So, the prior existence of things that already exist plus your creative energy results in something new in the world that resembles your idea. In technology, we would call this a "systems integrator". We would call this someone who offers as a commercial proposition something they put together from other modular pieces from the world. But this model can be used outside technology. It can be used in areas of culture, it can be used in the area of nightlife, it can be used in all kinds of interesting ways. And I'm going to tell you a story about a friend of mine. A guy named Juha van 't Zelfde and his company called Nonfiction in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. Nonfiction is an office for cultural innovation. What they do, one of the many things they do is look for opportunities like this. They look for things that already exist in the world that need something else in order to have a more successful existence. In this case, they started with this. This was the printing plant of a newspaper called the Trouw. This was the space. It's an industrial space, it was raw and they had two printing presses in there. They stripped the printing presses out and what they had was a concrete shell that was not being used, and was doomed to be demolished a couple of years down the line. But it had some amazing qualities to it. It was in a great neighborhood. It had great transit access, it had some amazing interior spaces, and it was available. Huge amounts of square footage in this building was available. What Nonfiction did was to take that space and a restaurateur who had everything ready to go but the space and some deejays that had an existing following but didn't really have anywhere to perform. They brought that together. This is TrouwAmsterdam today. This is an absolutely hopping bar, restaurant, night club, performance space, exhibition space. It's unbelievable. It's amazing. It's really an incredibly inspiring place to go. I don't know if you can see it but this is the restaurant section on a raised platform that used to be where the roller feeds for the printing press were. This is not going to last forever. They know that the building is going to be demolished. So, the building's available to them at an extremely low rate since part of what made them able to do this in the first place, part of what made it able for them to acquire the space in the first place, was price. Now, it's not accidental that I'm telling you this story in co-lab because I've been very, very interested in what co-lab has been doing. The first thing I heard about co-lab was that they were taking buildings that again, in Tokyo, were scheduled for demolition, where the original client had left, and they were looking for new opportunities to use these spaces productively during the period between now, in their vacancy, and their demolition. So they were able to attract a certain kind of creative professional or even not professional, people on their way to becoming professional. They were on their way to making whatever ideas they had in their head Real. They just needed a space. So, it's obviously something hot in the world. These ideas are percolating to the surface all over the place. They're percolating to the surface in Tokyo. They're percolating to the surface in Amsterdam. They're even percolating to the surface in New York, believe it or not. This idea has occurred to people all over the world. Adaptive reuse of existing structures re-purposed with creative, vital energy to produce something entirely new and unseen. Things that are able to take greater chances. Things that are able to take greater risks. Because the costs of doing so are lower. Now, my friend Juha in Amsterdam happens to be a master of making things Real. As a matter of fact, I would say that the guy has a golden touch. It seems like he's able to connect all different kinds of people wrap them together in some kind of proposition, find funding for them, somehow, and make these things Real. He's done it with exhibition spaces, museum spaces, with night clubs. I think the guy is pretty impressive. And I'm going to spend a lot of time watching Juha. And watching things like co-lab and seeing what I can learn from them because I'll tell you, the success rate of these places is something that I'm very deeply invested in. I think they've got all the ingredients going on and I very, very much hope that they succeed. But I think that there's a step further that we can go. Bottom up, platform/communities for creative opportunities that combine existing facilities and maybe even existing tools. People have incredible ideas and it has to be said, some mechanism with finding money. In this context, money really is the lubricant. It helps bring facilities, tools, and ideas together and generates Reality. To do so on a conscious basis, to do so on a continual basis, to do so on a purposive and intentional basis, to the span, not of months and not of years, but of decades. Producing entirely new forms of cultural output and cultural production. This is a space that I believe will make most of the things that we experience as Real in the 21st century, this is the kind of space that I'm interested in, that I'm going to be devoting most of my energy, to help set up and work in. Because I like this kind of energy. This is a way of distributing risk, of lowering risk of bringing together people with amazing ideas giving them what they need on a reliable basis, to help those ideas come out into the world. To help those people recruit the parties they need, build the networks they need, in the middle of translation, to create Real Things. It is my hope that I'm able to participate in that kind of thing and we're able to enjoy the Real Things that get produced. This has been a very lightweight, and a very superficial, if you'll excuse me look at these sorts of issues, and nevertheless I hope that you found something valuable in it and I thank you very much for your time and attention. It's been really, really wonderful to be here, and I hope you found this useful and I thank you all. Good night!

Video Details

Duration: 17 minutes and 41 seconds
Country: Japan
Language: English
Producer: AQ
Director: Ian Lynam
Views: 81
Posted by: tsasaki on Nov 6, 2010

In Adam's words: "'Becoming Real: The Art of Making Things Happen'" starts in my own frustration with how few of the projects I've been involved with in the course of my career ever actually shipped, launched, or otherwise saw the light of day." / This talk was given on October 29th, 2010 in Tokyo for an event organized by AQ.

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