We were milling about at @LenKendall‘s @the3six5 meetup at The Ginger Man here at SXSW last night when Greg Christman, aka @reelspit, came over to say hello. Greg had recently taken part in a creative workshop we held at BBH NY to generate ideas and test thinking for the next phase of Metrotwin, a site we created and run for British Airways. What a dude.
The place was packed with South By’s itinerant freak scene of start-up makers, innovators, journos, digital and new model advertising folk. I was hanging out with Utku from Mint Digital and, in jest, we discussed how awesome it would be if this group could be a country or city-state. This prompted Greg to whoop loudly that we should call it the Kingdom of Awesome and design our own awesomeness flag, and run the whole place using Foursquare. As an aside, I’ve heard a few people recently suggest that the word “awesome” is over. My friends, you misunderstand the meaning of awesome if that’s what you think – but that’s another blog post.
The idea of a Kingdom, Republic or Nation of Awesomeness - depending on your political persuasion - is funny (especially after quantities of booze on a warm evening), but it reminded me of a tweet I'd seen earlier in the day from Jeff Jarvis:
I don't want to get carried with all this but I think The Kingdom of Awesome is real - real in an allegorical, Utopia sense: a metaphorical 'State' of hive-mind.
Looking around the get-together last night it was really exciting to see all these awesome people sharing ideas. Let's be clear, the true value of this conference may not even be the official talks and panels any more (you can find most of this stuff on Slideshare), but rather the opportunity to meet all the people you've been chatting with on Twitter and through your blog over the preceding 12 months. It's a 'no-place' type of place where we can get together and play, and talk in an utterly open way about new ideas, our hopes and fears for the future - and, most importantly, how to make it happen. The Kingdom of Awesome is real - on Twitter, Foursquare and within the blogosphere, and in Austin at SXSW it becomes physically real, like a Virtual World taking over a physical space. I mean, where else can you casually mention you've just checked into a limo hot-tub on Foursquare?
Mr Jarvis' tweet prompted several further iterations of the "SXSW isn't a conference..." proto-meme that are relevant:
- SXSW isn't a conference it's a drum circle and an act of mass deconstruction of outdated thinking
I very much like the idea that The Kingdom of Awesome has a subversive mission, and of how a 'Notion State' can smash real world models into pieces.
Sharing, open-ness and radical trust are all behaviours that we, as primates, not only find useful but actually enjoy. The abundance of our current Web makes sharing and disruption - especially amongst us agency-frenemy-geek-collaborateur types not merely possible but utterly inevitable. The Clay Shirky talk I just went to has only served to radicalise me (God, I wish my teenage mind had been able to access thinking like Shirky's).
A radical sharing of the knowledge - of company IP even - that used to be jealously guarded by the traditional gatekeepers of old media is the awesomesauce of SXSW. In the Kingdom of Awesome, competitive advantage is no longer the result of being secretive. And by the way, that kind of secrecy is simply no longer possible in our connected social world even if you're dumb enough to think it's still a good idea. I wonder if the C-suite within big agency groups - the guys who've stumped up for their alpha-geeks to come out here - realise that their people are consorting with the enemy and trading the company IP like this? I doubt it. I suspect they're not quite ready for The Kingdom of Awesome.
It's been getting increasingly clear on Twitter and blogs that the people working in media and comms who get it have more in common with each other than with the companies that pay their salaries. The perfect storm of 2009 - the worst year ever for the old model, and the best year ever for the new social one - has allowed and encouraged the awesomeists to tunnel out underneath the walls of their fortresses and connect like never before, and they discovered that what they hold in common is stronger than any company mono-culture. SXSW makes this a physical reality. You may feel like an outsider within your own 'official' shop, but we're brothers and sisters in this place. The Kingdom of Awesome is somewhere you won't feel like an alien, and there are new - and frighteningly efficient - structures and networks where the makers of new models and culture can just get on with it without having to worry about the bollocksy idiots and politics.
The other effect of the social revolution is how it promotes talent with no regard for traditional structures or ideas about seniority, outside of the control of the employer. At some stage, you've got to start asking whether we even need agencies any more. In the same way as musicians don't need labels, and journalists don't need newspapers - talent in our industries won't need the traditional agency structure. Just like the secrecy, that idea belongs to the age of scarcity.
This is all exciting stuff, but what about clients and pitches and stuff? Whatever we think, doesn't it all still come down to a bloody and adversarial deathmatch? Well, yes, for the time being it does. But that's yet another ridiculous artifact of an age that's already passed away isn't it?
Are pitches a sensible way for clients to appoint the right people? No, and everyone knows it. The macho part of me really likes them, in the same way I'm drawn to fighting but know it's wrong. Pitches are an absurd waste of money and time. We could all use that time and money to solve the client's problems and create value. I'm not suggesting we do what they did in Belgium btw, I'm just putting this one out there - it seems to get held up as the reason we can't collaborate more closely and I think that's bullshit. We've got to figure out a way of getting clients to think like this - I don't think that will be as difficult as we might imagine.