When I look at what goes viral, what memes consist of, or even what I happen to click on within my twitter stream; there is always an element of humor found within. Not all of them are laugh out loud funny, but in the way that they tickle my brain or make me think differently, they are funny. They are novel and different, incongruent with the rest of my day. That is why I am drawn to them on a regular basis.
That is why OKGO’s new video has seen 7 million views.
It is the reason why the word FAIL has come to prominence.
It is why Four Square is starting to matter for a great number of people.
All of these things have a huge element of play in them, and even though I am not a meme or virality expert, I can still spot something that will “blow up” quite easily (or at least has the capacity to do so). If something is humorous, novel, memorable, and doesn’t require a lot of effort to consume it will have the power to be passed around at length by the horde of folks trolling the internet for such things (which is a great many of us).
The problem I am having is that on the whole, I am a pretty serious person. The work that I do is pretty serious. It may be novel to some, but it certainly follows a tradition and isn’t really breaking with others’ daily existence enough to warrant being “passed on.” While some may remember what I do, if I stopped blogging or working on my own projects, there would be very few who would morn the loss of my voice in the conversation. And, in general, many of the things I do take a good deal of time to understand or grapple with. Not by design, but because I don’t have the time to continue drafting on each idea to make it palatable to everyone.
I have no doubt that these questions will not be the next meme. And yet, I am serious and methodical about how I do them. I think them through and get great joy from the act of asking and answering big questions.
Yet, how far will that take me? How far will these ideas reach if I can’t put them together into a package that allows for 7 million views?
And even more pessimistically, how far will being serious and complex take our values and our ideas about business, about education, and about networks? If we cannot do our work in such a way that garners mass support, how do we hope to get leaders elected or get skeptics to even come into the conversation. I think that it may be time for people who are not as serious, and who can design works of pop art or novel systems that cause people to jump on bandwagons to reengineer the ideas we grapple with on a daily basis.
Where are the education designers (real design, with an eye for virality)?
Where are the agile business practice advocates (ones who can set up mobile systems for engagement that are better than discussion forums)?
Where are those that can break through the filters that everyone has for their everyday life?
And to a certain extent, the answers are that we are them or we must become them. We must at least try to make our ideas work on a larger scale. We must design objects that can be passed around outside of our small communities. We must be humorous and novel in our approach. And if that is too much to ask, a certain cleverness will suffice.
And I do realize that this will take a lot of time and that there is a place for being serious and academic and driven by the community of thinkers rather than an external community. But, if we believe that even one of our ideas is needed to make the world a better place, we owe it to the idea to provide a package that makes sense to everyone else. We owe it to ourselves to not let ego and esoteric discourse get in the way. We owe it to one another to make sure that what goes viral has some of what we are thinking about embedded into it.
At least at this very moment, I think so.
I was talking with a group of my G11 students today. They have to make a pitch tomorrow and I'd shut down one of their ideas for playing to emotion and ignoring intellect. They processed my veto and came looking for me. “What do we do then? How do we get people's attention?” They'd been told in their digital video class that they need to get their audience's attention in the opening if they had any hope of carrying them through to the end. Without their emotional argument, they felt they didn't have anything.
Now, each of the four students in this group had been working on a problem or issue they'd identified as important and worthy of change. They've invested in this process and stuck with it. The problems were drafted and selected by each member of the group. Somewhere, at some level, they are passionate about their individual topics and the umbrella topic under which they are now working.
My advice was simple. I told them to think of the piece that first sparked their interest in their respective topics and think of the passion they felt about solving that issue. Whatever sparked that, that's what they need to communicate to get their peers on board. I'm pretty sure I'm write about that.
OkGo's video is a success for all of the viral reasons, but it's also a success because this is a group of guys who are passionate about what they do. The video wouldn't work (likely wouldn't exist) without passion.
You've written about passion and the importance of connecting with people who share your passions.
I think the spreading of these ideas comes from an innate urge to share our passions.
As for the idea that we are them, yes, yes, a thousand times yes.
Packaging and sharing the ideas with which we play passionately is a valuable and contagious act.
I love how this project of yours keeps on bearing fantastic conversations
with kids. If I were in your shoes, I would pretty much want to focus on
this project and pretty much nothing else. Being able to convey the initial
spark of passion and telling your own version of an origin story is hugely
important to getting people on board, and showing just how that happened is
even better. Creating that experience of the spark goes further.
I think that the OKGO video has a huge amount of that element. In it, I want
to know just what they were thinking at every step of the process. I
experience the experimentation that it must have taken (I heard an interview
that said it took about 60 takes once they had the whole machine all set
up… and hundreds more to get the marbles and dominoes right). I experience
who the creators of the machine are by watching the machine in action.
We all know the dominoes and the Rube Goldberg machines within our own
passions. If we are reflective enough, we can look back and see just what
led to the decisions we made and passions that we have cultivated. We have
to create the environments for other people's dominoes to fall. We have to
show our passion and allow others to take part in it.
I just think we have to design it better so that our passion doesn't seem
like a carefully crafted machine that doesn't need their help. If we do not
require others for our projects, if we do not incite others to create or
comment or share, we are not doing it right.
Telling our stories and sharing experiences are the easiest ways to infect
What do you think about the idea of purposely building something broken as
the best way to incite others to contribute. I like the humility implied
I really don't know how I feel about barn-raising a shoddy barn. I don't
know how I feel about being intentionally unhelpful so that others can
figure it out for themselves. It may be a good way to ask others to help,
but it seems quite backhanded. I would rather everyone bring their best to
the table and create something truly great.
I would also make the case that everything is broken if you look at it
right. Everything can be made better or be disrupted by another idea that is
divergent and overwhelmingly better. The only way that we can get others to
truly build what is possible is to start them far enough along so that they
don't have to make all of the same mistakes we did. They should be making
different mistakes, better mistakes in their bid to become better than us.
I really don’t know how I feel about barn-raising a shoddy barn. I don’trnknow how I feel about being intentionally unhelpful so that others canrnfigure it out for themselves. It may be a good way to ask others to help,rnbut it seems quite backhanded. I would rather everyone bring their best tornthe table and create something truly great.rnrnI would also make the case that everything is broken if you look at itrnright. Everything can be made better or be disrupted by another idea that isrndivergent and overwhelmingly better. The only way that we can get others torntruly build what is possible is to start them far enough along so that theyrndon’t have to make all of the same mistakes we did. They should be makingrndifferent mistakes, better mistakes in their bid to become better than us.