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Archive for May, 2010

The Beatles – Innovation & The Medici Effect

May 23rd, 2010

Anyone out there have a thing for the Beatles?

OK…I’ll admit I’ve been a fan of the “Fab 4″ since my high-school days in Leonia, NJ.  Maybe “fan” is too light a term.

And, having just spent the past 2 days touring Liverpool (I described it to friends and family as my “Pilgrimage to Mecca”) and reading Jonathan Gould’s 2007 book Can’t Buy Me Love, I’m thinking about what turned the Beatles and  “Beatlemania” into the biggest musical sensation of the 20th Century.  What was the spark of creativity that allowed these four tocreate their own style out of the Liverpool “beat” scene?

Liverpool in 1962 was like Florence in 1452?

I think I have some answers after exploring Liverpool, learning about it’s history, going through the Beatles Experience/Story (museum) and reading Gould’s book.  Liverpool became a modern-day musical version of Florence of the 15th Century.  Liverpool emerged emerged out of no-where, as the newIntersection of rock-and-roll, “beat” music and new attitudes and it was the Beatles that turned creativity into  innovation – invoking  a new style of music that was different from anything else the world had heard before…and as a result, the Beatles catapulted to stardom unlike any other band before or after it. 

How did this happen?

Liverpool has held a reputation – even before WWII – as a blue-collar, rough-and-tumble town.  (although I found it actually quite gentrified when I visited this week).  As primarily a shipping port after WWII the city was also  far smaller, more blue-collar and far less “metropolitan”  than London.  At the time John Winston Lennon, James Paul McCartney, Richard Starkey (Ringo Starr) and George Harrison met , Liverpool was well-known for it’s territory-based teenage gangs – and although they weren’t as troublesome as today’s street gangs, they tended to grow and thrive in small groups – competing with one another for neighborhood supremacy.  These mini “city-states” as it were had another interesting characteristic that was found in Florence of the 1500s – they were quite DIVERSE.  The city, more than the average city in Europe was a melting pot of Gaelic, Scottish, Welsh, Irish and English – and the Irish and Welsh are know for their singing abilities. Thus was born a minor “warfare” between opposing gangs to see who could produce the most “new age” music of the time – and that music which emerged was called “Beat” music.

Diversity, as it turns out is the major theme of Frans Johansson‘s work The Medici Effect, in which he describes the creative results of highly diverse cities or groups of people.  I talk about the Medici Effect in a prior post on Intersection, Medici Effect and Creativity. The melting pot of Liverpool created this same kind of diversity for music and entertainment.

While Liverpool was diverse in its musical talent, it’s people and its neighborhoods, it wasn’t completely immune to changes taking place in the world.  Elvis Presley, a hero of Lennon and McCartney, had risen to global fame just 2 years previously.  Little Richard was also admired and studied by the Beatles, as were many other rhythm and blues singers (mostly American) of the early 1960s.

In 1961 and 1962, the Band played extensively in Hamburg, Germany – another melting pot of musical talents from around the world. The Beatles, though, were able to create something new from existing elements.  It was the combination of their own local British  music known as “Beat” music, with what they learned in Hamburg watching others, and combined with a look and feel that their manager (Brian Epstein) brought to them (hair styles consistent mop-style hair, the “group” feel enhanced by one “mod suit uniform for each).

It is uncertain whether fan hysteria brought the Beatles to life, or whether their music and attitudes did the trick.  Whatever the reason, the Creativity and Innovation by this one group of four men still four lasts decades after their 1970 split.  I even find that my own children, Millenials every last one of them, know and recognize Beatles music.  What other groups in the history of rock and roll can claim this much of a renaissance and this long of a lasting impression on generations of music-lovers?

I’d like to hear your opinion….

Personal Brand and Creativity

May 14th, 2010

I was interviewed by Dan Schawbel, author of Me 2.0, on his website this week on the topic of Personal Branding and Creativity.  It got me thinking about the nature of creativity and personal brands on the internet.

In the early days of Yahoo, when I took over marketing and sales, it was clear that the BRAND at the company was both the name/identify of “Y-A-H-O-O” as well as the personalities of Dave Filo and Jerry Yang.  So, our earliest marketing at Yahoo was not expensive television commercials or , it was simple public relations aimed at the top US consumer reads – so with minimal marketing spend we ended up with stories on Filo & Yang in Rolling Stones, People, NY Times, Wired, and more.  All within 6 months of funding and officially launching the company.

In 1996, when I formed Interactive Minds, one could already see the power of Personalities (aka personal branding) on the Web. I teamed up with Howard Rheingold to form a company called Electric Minds.  Electric Minds was initially funded by private angels and Softbank Ventures, but did not survive…we failed to find a business model that would work in that period of the Internet – and our cost structure to produce an early community site was insurmountable.  However, it was an extremely creative endeavor – putting together PERSONAL BRANDS from a variety of technology experts that Howard knew and positioning them as global experts in their field of expertise, then surrounding them with many early social elements.  In a funny way, Electric Minds was an early pre-curser to Social Media market -but was the example of a company TOO EARLY to take advantage of the explosion.  Timing is everything.
Several months after Electric Minds came along, another early community company called The Mining Company, founded by former CEO of Prodigy Networks (@kurnit) came along.  They changed their name to About.com, went public in the dotcom bubble period and today are one of the few pre-bubble community companies still running strong.  About.com took the approach of giving thought leaders for thousands of areas (dogs, boating, stamp collecting) a “voice” and a set of tools for building community.

This is the first example I can think of where personal branding occurred on the Internet with NON-POP CULTURE people/experts and elevated them to Internet notoriety.

In the following years, personal branding has come into vogue in many ways.  First, there as the “Internet Pioneer” – Howard Rheingold is a great example of this. He was followed by Jim Cramer, The Motley Fool, Matt Drudge and Perez Hilton.

Next came the waves of famous Bloggers…..and the age of Youtube celebrities, some of whom, like LonelyGirl15 were not even real…

Now we have Twitterati. 5 Million followers and counting for @aplusk (AshtonKutcher). Byte-sized personal branding at your service.

With each wave of personalities that come to the Internet, they carry their own unique form of creativity – in “voice”/personality, style, and antics.  No one quite communicated like Howard Rheingold (or dresses like him), no one quite had the style of Arianna Huffington, no one has the short-form entertainment appeal of Violet Blue or the techno-social grace of Michael Arrington.

The latest wave of online personalities that are growing include those who are able to capture the heart and spirit of the millenials in several new areas: social consciousness, global savvy, and celebrity.  One great way to watch the celebrity arena is Celebrifi , by Blue Buzz Networks, which I’m mentoring.

Keep a watch for these areas.

See the interview at : http://www.personalbrandingblog.com/personal-branding-interview-randy-haykin/

I’m now thinking about what comes next. :)