16 Secrets To Creating Breakthrough Ideas; Culturematic: How Reality TV, John Cheever, a Pie Lab, Julia Child, Fantasy Football . . . Will Help You Create and Execute Breakthrough Ideas

16 Secrets To Creating Breakthrough Ideas

Mariana Simoes | Mar. 28, 2013, 2:08 PM | 18,954 | 1

What do Arianna HuffingtonJay-Z and the founders of Twitter all have in common?

They changed the face of American culture forever.

They have enabled us to “see ourselves, or something in the world, differently,” explains author Grant McCracken. In his book  “Culturematic,” McCracken discusses how these and other innovators came up with revolutionary concepts that helped shape the way we see the world today.

McCracken describes “culturematic” as “a little machine for making culture. It’s an ingenuity engine.” The cultural innovators practicing this art form all get one key thing right: They challenged the traditional order in which our world is run. “They speak to us because they go against the grain of expectation,” McCracken shares.

We chose 16 of the most valuable secrets from their successes.

Twitter Founders: Don’t do it for others, do it for yourself

“In the early days, the founders of Twitter — Biz Stone, Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams — thought Twitter might appeal to ‘technical geeks’ in San Francisco, who would use it ‘to fool around with and to find out what each other’s up to.’ … At this early stage they were driven by personal passion. So it didn’t especially bother them that, as Stone recalls, ”for the first nine months or so everyone just thought we were fools [and that Twitter] was the most ridiculous thing they’d ever heard of…’ First we make the tech, then the tech makes up.”

Jay-Z: Always be versatile and willing to reinvent yourself

“Many hip-hop artists are unabashedly in it for the money. Some of the point of the exercise is, in the words of 50 Cent, ‘to get rich [or] die trying.’ In 1998 Jay-Z released Vol.2: Hard Knock Life, [which] went to the top of the charts. …The song in question, ‘Hard Knock Life’ attracted immediate attention for its use of a refrain from the Broadway musical ‘Annie.‘ This looked like a deliberate effort to make Jay-Z look less threatening and more accessible, less gangsta more pop. … His choice was, in the words of one critic, ‘completely unexpected.'”

Andy Samberg: Don’t ask your boss for permission

“When Andy Samberg joined the cast of Saturday Night Live, he found his own way to make a contribution.” Without asking his boss for permission, Samberg borrowed a camera from a friend, made a short film and handed the tape to his producer at Saturday Night Live. Now, “Samberg is one of the new producing wells in popular culture. …The YouTube views generated by SNL digital Shorts run into the hundreds of millions.”

Producer of “Two and A Half Men”: Get personal

“Chuck Lorre is perhaps the most inventive man in television. He is certainly the most durable. … Lorre found a way to turn the freeze-frame into a personal message. … Lorre gets to speak to us in a voice that is not just personal, but also candid, scathing, witty and revelatory. … By this standard, every other producer is a talking head.”

Arianna Huffington: Give the people what they want

Arianna Huffington found a creative and accessible way to present online content to the public. People like Arianna Huffington are called ‘curators.’ “They are people who can examine the best bodies of data and people and discover the ones that matter. But this is the first act of curation. The second is connecting. Once curators identify data and people, they connect them to other data and people. Thus our world becomes still more feverish in its creativity.”

Graffiti artist Banksy: Don’t just come up with another brand

“Banksy’s graffiti is Culturematic because it intervenes in the city with images that captivate us.” Banksy defies the principle that “there is nothing imaginative about some guy writing his initials on the side of a bus over and over again.” Banksy’s art suggests that you should “investigate the world for what you don’t know, instead of trying to brand it with what you do.”

Author who invented the smart mob concept: Break free from routine

“With his book ‘Smart Mobs,’ Howard Rheingold encouraged people to assemble in public on scant notice for just-in-time purposes … to freeze for a moment at Grand Central … or to act out letters in a department store window. … No tangible good will return from this investment of time and effort … But participants believe their time was well spent. … Order that emerges and then disappears. It’s as though someone has been practicing senseless acts of beauty.”

Creators of “The Real World”: Ideas that others think are ridiculous end up being revolutionary.

“‘What if we put a bunch of amateurs in a house and filmed what happens?’ Thus spoke Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray in 1991, when they created a reality television program called ‘The Real World.’ ... What nobody anticipated was that this little show would change the very landscape of American television. … Over the last two decades, reality TV has proven the most productive idea in the history of television, turning out hundreds of experiments, many of which survived to maturity.”

The men behind Web 2.0: If it’s a failure, build off it and redesign

Web 2.0 is a concept created by Tim O’Reilly and Dale Dougherty. It was destined to change the way an industry thought about itself. The aftermath of the dot-com collapse was all doom and gloom, pain and skepticism. … Web 2.0 delivered that most extraordinary thing: a category in our heads that would help us see the world. And from this could come a conference, a consensus, and a community. An industry pulled itself back from chaos and began again, now more confident and more purposeful.”

Television producer Dan Harmon: Create a think tank

“Dan Harmon makes television. He created ‘Community’ [for] NBC and the ‘Sarah Silverman Program’ for Comedy Central. Harmon would have made TV the old-fashioned way, coming up with ideas, pitching them to network [and] cable executives, rolling out pilots, going on air, and, with luck … creating a hit series that brought him fame and fortune. …Harmon settled on another, Culturematic approach … he created a forum called Channel 101 … a place where new ideas could be tested without the whopping, great investments normally required. … It keeps innovation cheap. It lets people experiment fast. They can fail early and often.”

The tech genius behind Wordle : Use uncertainty to your advantage

“Wordle is a little program Jonathan Feinberg created while he was working at IBM. It takes words and turns them into images. … Wordle is a bit of a black box. Feinberg stuffed his image engine with beautiful colors and typefaces and turned it loose. He created a device that could be relied on to deliver images with a certain something. We’re not sure what. In spite of this uncertainty, we have used Wordle over a million times. Let’s restate that. Because of this uncertainty, we have used Wordle over a million times.”

Founder of Pie Lab: Find something that everybody likes and use it as bait.

“John Bielenberg had a problem: how to reach out to people and move them to reach out to one another. Bielenberg wanted to build community. …The Pie Lab, as it came to be called, was betting that this staple of Thanksgiving could serve as an engine for social good …The residents of Greensboro thought, ‘how dangerous can these people be? They’re handing out free pie!’ Conversation happened. Social distance collapsed. People began to see they shared interests. The stage for change was set.”

Author Julie Powell: Take it one step at a time.

Julia Child is known for bringing French cuisine to the mainstream American public with her famous cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” She inspired Julie Powell, an average girl in Queens “to prepare the recipes of Julia Child. This is a gigantic undertaking, to do and to read about. Julie decided to do one recipe a day for a year. Not so gigantic. …The ‘baby step’ principle tells us that humans are sensitive to moments when the scale of a problem threatens to render their action insignificant.”

Creators of fantasy football: Recycle old ideas

“Fantasy Football now entertains 27 million people … [T]he game was invented by Wilfred Winkenbach, Bill Tunnel and Scotty Starling in a Manhattan hotel room in the early 1960s. The idea was simple. Take the numbers generated by a professional sport, and use them to create outcomes in a fantasy league. … For most of us, these numbers are a record of events past … But for Winkenbach, Tunnel and Starling, these numbers were not backward-looking. Potentially they generated new events taking place in a new league.”

Comedian Kathy Griffin: Defy convention

“Griffin is the enemy of a cozy celebrity world. She pours ridicule on Ozzy Osbourne, Gwyneth Paltrow, the Olsen twins and Oprah Winfrey. … She’s the outsider who found a way to sneak into stardom. … She lives to break into the manufactured appearances and infelicities of a mainstream culture. … [Griffin] is merely the perfect opposite of the traditional PR professional.”

Chief editors of The Onion: surprise your audience

“The Onion has made a careful study of the many ways in which it can violate the conventions of the world of journalism, and we are now so comfortable with these violations that we welcome them. … A surprising number of intellegent, well-educated people treat these shows [as] their exclusive source of news. … ‘Most newspapers today have “become a one-note whistle.” We know exactly where they are going.’ …The spirit of the Culturematic says it is better to mix in message[s] that [are] not anticipated by the grammar.”

Culturematic: How Reality TV, John Cheever, a Pie Lab, Julia Child, Fantasy Football . . . Will Help You Create and Execute Breakthrough Ideas [Hardcover]

Grant McCracken (Author)

Publication Date: May 15, 2012

Welcome to Culturematic: How Reality TV, John Cheever, a Pie Lab, Julia Child, Fantasy Football, Burning Man, the Ford Fiesta Movement, Rube Goldberg, NFL Films, Wordle, Two and a Half Men, a 10,000-Year Symphony, and ROFLCom Memes Will Help You Create and Execute Breakthrough Ideas

A Culturematic is a little machine for making culture. It’s an ingenuity engine.

Once wound up and released, the Culturematic acts as a probe into the often-alien world of contemporary culture, to test the atmosphere, to see what life it can sustain, to see who responds and how. Culturematics start small but can scale up ferociously, bootstrapping themselves as they go.

Because they are so inexpensive, we can afford to fire off a multitude of Culturematics simultaneously. This is evolutionary strategy, iterative innovation, and rapid prototyping all at once. Culturematics are fast, cheap, and out of control. Perhaps as important, they fail early and often. They are the perfect antidote to a world where we cannot guess what’s coming next.

In Culturematic, anthropologist Grant McCracken describes these little machines and helps the reader master them. Examples are drawn from NFL Films, Twitter, the Apple Genius Bar, Starbucks, Ford, SNL Digital Shorts, Restoration Hardware, UNICEF, J. Crew, Pie Lab, USA Network, and the GEICO gecko.

For the traditional producers of culture—the creators of movies, design, advertising, publishing, magazines, newspapers, and corporate R&D—this book will inspire new innovation and creativity.

For the emerging producers of culture—the digital players—this book will serve as a practical handbook. Culturematic: our app for creating the world anew.

Editorial Reviews

Review

“McCracken’s lively exploration of how media experiments, rule breaking, and parody can expose culture and move it forward proves fascinating and provocative.” — Publishers Weekly

“McCracken’s point is that in the modern world it is almost impossible to know where the next big idea is coming from… But, thanks to social media and also to the fact that the world is in many ways a lot more homogenous than used to be the case, certain ideas, thoughts, programmes spread like wildfire.” — futureofbusiness.com

“Grant McCracken introduces, in this thought-provoking book, the notion of the culturematic, a machine for making culture – otherwise described as an ingenuity engine… McCracken has interesting observations about how the growing inscrutability of the world haunts traditional producers of culture.” — The Irish Times

“Worth the read if you’re trying to create meaning and value in the world.” — LeadershipNow (leadershipnow.com)

“Working in the digital culture industry, Culturematic is certainly inspirational. If nothing else, it’s an excellent compendium of cultural artifacts that have touched the zeitgeist in the last few years.” — Social Media Group (socialmediagroup.com)

“Engagingly written and accessible to both business and lay people, the book will have broad appeal to entrepreneurs, marketers, inventors, artists, and people looking for a creativity boost in their professional or personal lives.” —Library Journal

“his book will definitely lead you to a greater appreciation of your own inner curiosities” — Marketing Daily/MediaPost

ADVANCE PRAISE for Culturematic

“No one views American culture—nor discovers its meaning—in quite the way Grant McCracken does. With his sparkling Culturematic as your guide, go from consuming culture to making it, one small, achievable, and ingenious step at a time.” — B. Joseph Pine II, coauthor, The Experience Economy and Infinite Possibility

Culturematic pulls back the curtain on the fascinating cultural world that drives brands, corporations, and society. Both a revealer of history and a predictor of the future, Grant McCracken provides tools for innovation and mischief that will help you place yourself and your company on the relevant edge of culture. A guidebook, a tool, and a great read.” — Stanley Hainsworth, Chief Creative Officer, Tether

“Grant McCracken is a cool guy and thinker with consistently cutting-edge insights about the way people are thinking, working, and feeling. McCracken’s challenge here, to be a culture-making entrepreneur—‘a Culturematic’—resonated strongly with me, as I expect it will for many people and leaders who want to invent their futures by starting small.” — Peter Sims, author, Little Bets; Cofounder and Director, Fuse Corps

“We are leaving behind a marketing age that rewarded safe bets. Culturematic prepares us to listen more and hear the answers in unexpected places.” — John A. Deighton, Harold M. Brierley Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

“There’s a misconception that innovation lives only in labs populated by white-coat wearing scientists. In his wide-ranging and entertaining book, Grant McCracken shows how that is not true. Culturematic manages to be both an engaging and practical guide to creativity and innovation. A worthwhile read.” — Scott D. Anthony, Managing Director Innosight Asia-Pacific; author of The Little Black Book Innovation

From the Back Cover

“No one views American culture–nor discovers its meaning–in quite the way Grant McCracken does. With his sparkling Culturematic as your guide, go from consuming culture to making it, one small, achievable, and ingenious step at a time.”

–B. Joseph Pine II, coauthor, The Experience Economy and Infinite Possibility
 
Culturematic pulls back the curtain on the fascinating cultural world that drives brands, corporations, and society. Both a revealer of history and a predictor of the future, Grant McCracken provides tools for innovation and mischief that will help you place yourself and your company on the relevant edge of culture. A guidebook, a tool, and a great read.”

–Stanley Hainsworth, Chief Creative Officer, Tether

“Grant McCracken is a cool guy and thinker with consistently cutting-edge insights about the way people are thinking, working, and feeling. McCracken’s challenge here, to be a culture-making entrepreneur–‘a Culturematic’–resonated strongly with me, as I expect it will for many people and leaders who want to invent their futures by starting small.”

–Peter Sims, author, Little Bets; Cofounder and Director, Fuse Corps

“We are leaving behind a marketing age that rewarded safe bets. Culturematic prepares us to listen more and hear the answers in unexpected places.”

–John A. Deighton, Harold M. Brierley Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

“There’s a misconception that innovation lives only in labs populated by white-coat wearing scientists. In his wide-ranging and entertaining book, Grant McCracken shows how that is not true. Culturematic manages to be both an engaging and practical guide to creativity and innovation. A worthwhile read.”

–Scott D. Anthony, Managing Director, Innosight Asia-Pacific; author of The Little Black Book of Innovation.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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