A New Chapter

I’ve been working on a couple of side projects, some for over a year, and they have reached a critical mass. So much so, that I’ve made them my main gig. That’s right, I’ve stepped away from Gateway Church and I’m going full speed on these passions of mine. Don’t worry my Gateway squad, the Marotte family will still be around; I’m not employed by Gateway but it’s still my church.

Here’s what’s up:

Simple Drive
Consulting has always been a side thing for me and as I’ve been able to work with more and more companies, and churches too, I’ve found that it is really life giving for me and that I’ve had a lot of success at it. My focus will be on helping organizations with their leadership structure and their decision making processes.

Culture Forge
This brainchild has been in the works for nearly two years and it is finally a go. I’ve spent 18 years as a pastor and I still have a huge heart for the local church. The project has a long term goal that I won’t outline here, but I will say that our first event is coming up on July 28-30 here in Austin. It’s limited to just 10 churches. Keep an eye on things at Culture Forge for more events coming up in the next year.

Prayer Labyrinth
As much as I have a heart for the local church, I think I have an even bigger heart for people who are searching for meaning in this life. The Prayer Labyrinth got a prototype last fall and the feedback has been positive so we’ll be doing some fund raising to move it from idea to reality. It will be a huge undertaking as it is part dynamic web application and part feature film.

Hypertelling

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Remember those Chose Your Own Adventure books? The ones where at the end of a ‘chapter’ you would have to make a decision as to what happened next. At a pivotal point in the story you would decide whether the character would hike down a dark cave or hide behind a tree. You would then turn to the page for that plot line and the story would continue. You were part of shaping the version of the story that you experienced. Brilliant! What ever happened to those?

I loved them because you felt like you were part of making the story. As a hyper young lad, soon to be a grown ENTP, this suited me just fine. Not that I didn’t like to just sit back and be entertained on occasion; being active in shaping things just feels better to me.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago and the premiere of yet another show wherein young hopefuls sing cover songs to be judged by washed up musicians only this time with a new media twist. I’m talking about Rising Star. The show has a companion app that you download and as the show airs live, you use the app to give the current singer a thumbs up or a thumbs down. The singer needs to get a certain percentage of yes votes to advance to the next round. In the interest of research, my daughter and I tuned into the premiere episode with our phones in hand to get our vote on.

ABC knows what they are doing, allowing you to be a part of shaping the story, albeit in a very controlled ecosystem. They know that 86 percent of Gen-Xers and Millenials watch TV while engaging with a second screen, usually a mobile device.

The fear that the Internet has turned us into a less creative consumer zombies is just not holding true. It turns out that we like to share content, create content, tweak content and talk about content too.

A good example of this; The Most Interesting Man In The World. Started as an ad campaign for beer, its now become a meme and a part of the vocabulary of the internet. The story that Dos XX beer has been telling is living on (and changing) in a way that they could never have planned for.

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The mantra from marketers in recent years has been; tell story. Its true, if you tell a compelling story you can get action from users. Which brings an important aside in the conversation, audience vs users. Simply telling a story is definitely good enough when you have an audience but we’re finding more and more that a good story, in and of itself, is not enough in the age of users. Users are much more complex and once you understand this new reality, they are much more of an asset to you and your message.

Users jump from platform to platform, channel to channel and device to device. Different users use different spaces for different reasons. Your mom uses Facebook to look at pictures of her grandkids while you may use it to keep up with friends and brag about your life. You may simply see Clash of Clans as a video game where your 10 year old son uses it much like you might use email or sms…to communicate with friends.

So if we combine story telling with the multi-switching realities of new media we come to this idea of Hypertelling. Its a phrase coined by Eric Solomon from Google’s creative department; Zoo. Remember the word ‘hyperlink’? That’s where it comes from. Its story telling in a new reality, so we get hypertelling.

Its the idea that the story you tell needs to be dynamic, not just in the story itself, but the execution of the story across various platforms, channels and substrates. There are multiple ways this plays out and I want to focus in on two of them in the next two posts (I may ad more later) so here’s a summary of these two ideas:

Hypertelling needs to be orchestrated from moment one
You can’t simply do what you normally do in your creative meetings and in you regular executions of your message, you need to consider how to tell the story and engage with users across all channels that you use and that make sense for your brand. Hypertelling fails when you repackage content and try to serve it across different channels.

You can’t control Hypertelling
The Internet never forgets right? We’ve seen McDonalds and other big brands completely blow it on this one when they expected the behavior of an audience and got the behavior of users instead. Hypertelling comes with risk and when done right requires you to venture into some very unknown places with your brand.

This is the early stage of putting words to this idea, that isn’t completely new. A few years ago I was working with the idea; appearance of spontaneity. Grasping the idea of hypertelling, I think, will help you and your team make more sense of the various channels that you’ve probably been treating as either separate silos (like I have) or you’ve just been repackaging the same content across those channels.

What are your thoughts on this idea of hypertelling?

The Non-Readers Guide to Rocking at New Media

I consult companies on communicating, structuring and marketing in light of where culture is and I often give homework to them to learn from people way smarter than me. Clay Shirky and Gary Vaynerchuk are almost always in the recommended reading list. To save time in the future I thought I would just link up the greatest hits of these two brilliant minds. Clay is an academic guy and he uses lots of big words and Gary is a street smart guy who uses a lot of curse words. Be warned.

Institutions vs. Collaboration

Clay Shirky will introduce you to an idea that is super important to understand if you work in a space that is trying to get large groups of people to take meaningful action.

How to Story Tell in a Fast Paced World

Gary Vaynerchuk breaks down what it means to understand the context of media channels which should inform how, what and why you put content into those channels.

Why Use New Media

The talk and concepts that Gary has been talking about for years. This is the video to watch if you don’t currently use social media.

Cognitive Surplus

Clay Shirky takes his early ideas and fine tunes them into the idea of Cognitive Surplus. Understanding his ideas will give you a look at the future of how your organization will look.

Bonus Video – Zero Marginal Cost Society

Jeremy Rifkin is a genius and a modern day philosopher. This is a heavy video that larger business/organization people absolutely need to understand.

I want to be surrounded by the broken and mended

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Have you ever screwed up in an ugly and public way? It sucks. If you have any shred of self awareness it eats you alive. You lose sleep…lots of sleep. The anxiety starts to build as it becomes clear that this is not going away until you engage it head on and humble yourself before any and all effected. As soon as you come clean and air it out, even though a list of consequences may await, you feel a tension release and a freedom that is powerful and brings you back to life.

Forgiveness and reconciliation is about as powerful of an interaction as two humans can have on this earth.

I’ve been there plenty of times and I know how these experiences have shaped me. I know I’m in good company when I’m around people who have walked these hallways.

Drop Phones Not Bombs

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Governments that exist by controlling access to information, as well as the synchronization and coordination of people, are losing in the face of abundant new media and the power it gives individuals.

Venezuela, Ukraine, China, North Korea and the like cannot be a part of the emerging global economy without every worker having at least the connectivity provided by a mobile phone.

This means the people can unite and rise up. It’s exciting because maybe we don’t have to go killing and bombing to overthrow dictators. The people can do it themselves, all they need is the tools.

Drop phones not bombs.

Viral Facebook Page Posts 101

Since early 2013 Facebook has made changes to the ‘algorithm’ that determines what content actually makes it into a user’s feed. I’m assuming you knew that. This had a drastic, if not overnight, effect in January 2013 when the average views a non-promoted post from a page halved from around 30 percent of page likes to around 13 percent on average! Ouch.

I believe this is probably a good thing for the future of Facebook although it may have left a sting to page owners who depend on the platform as a major revenue building channel.  Without going into the details too much, Facebook ‘curates’ what posts make it into a user’s timeline in an effort to; (a) keep them on the site so that they can (b) serve them ads and make money. It’s a good thing because I think it will increase the quality of posts because pages will have to be more creative and push higher quality content. The downside is that it may eventually lead to more paid posts in user’s feeds. We’ll see.

The one type post that will go viral on Facebook

Pictures of me. No, not pictures of me as in me…Vince. I mean pictures that users see and think; “That’s so me“. Or in some cases, pictures that they are actually in (or think they are in). Images, by far, give you the best chance to hit a larger segment of your page likes and beyond; there isn’t much debate there. Links are getting hammered on by Facebook because they send people away from Facebook so they’re not going to give you much exposure there. Videos (uploaded into FB vs. linking up YouTube etc) do okay but as more and more Facebook traffic is on mobile devices users are watching (and sharing) less videos.

That’s so me

Here’s an example of an image that went ‘viral’ that we played on a pretty new page I manage for my cycling team here in Austin. Viral meaning that it garnered (as of today) views that were 25 times the number of page likes. It is the quintessential ‘that is so me’ image. The shares go nuts for this type of picture, especially when its targeted well; in this case to cyclists.

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A photo of ‘me’

This image is of an event where we gave everyone in the auditorium glow sticks to hold up all at the same time. The event took place three times and this photo is of just one of them. Because users were there and ‘in’ the picture they shared it en masse. That’s the key to getting more views; leveraging the influence of users sharing the content on their timelines. People like to share pictures of themselves, its kind of the whole point of Facebook in the first place.

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You can start right now with the ‘that’s so me’ image targeted at your page’s niche and moving forward, build in a workflow to actually get images of your fans.

4 Reasons You Shouldn’t Use New Media

I thought I was done trying to sell business owners, leaders and entrepreneurs that they should be using new media (formally called social media) but I have had a string of interactions already in the new year that lead me to post this. I have encountered all the old excuses; “I don’t have time”, “Show me how it can be strategic”, “I’ll start using it once the startup is up and running”. Seriously, someone said those exact words to me.

I apologize to most of my readers who, by and large, get it.

Rather than compile a list of reasons you should use social media, let me paint the other side of the fence here and list out some reasons I think you shouldn’t be using new media.

1. You are done learning

If you have learned everything you need to learn the wide open spaces of new media platforms, Twitter especially, can seem like a waste of time. You would quickly see that there is so little you know that it could make it really difficult to continue being done learning. You could engage hundreds, if not thousands, of people in your field who could teach you, in real time, and that would just suck, so you should probably stay off of new media.

2. You don’t need to communicate to more people than you currently have access to

You’ve already achieved fame among your finely curated fiefdom and you can get them to buy enough of your widgets or attend enough of your events to pad your pockets just fine; why waste time trying to grow that audience?

3. You have built the perfect team that will never change

You have found that perfect team of all-stars and have the funds to pay them what they’re worth and you keep them motivated and passionate; you’re the greatest leader ever! You won’t need to engage in networking to add to your team or replace team members who have gone on to other things.

4. You are a jerk

New media is like alcohol, it amplifies the core of your personality. If you’re a jerk when you’re sober, you are likely an apocalyptic idiot when you’re drunk. If you engaged in social media, many more people would know that you are a tool and that’s something you want to keep an eye on.

So there you go, continue staying off new media, next time I’m near a fax machine I’ll get you an update on what living in the future is like.

 

Does The Church Have A Future?

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{I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, just wanted to hang onto it since this is the meat of most of the conference talks and keynotes I’ve given in the last year}

Seriously, what is the future of the church? I could go a hundred different ways with this thought; gay marriage, globalization, fossil fuels, consumerism, theology, death of the suburbs, fall of dictatorships and any number of changes in culture both in the United States and the world.

But I want to focus on something quite fundamental that, even in the midst of massive cultural change, never seems to even be on the table for discussion in any meaningful way; going to church. The next paragraph will draw a line in the sand that many of you will simply not be able to understand let alone free your mind enough to even consider crossing. You can’t have a revolution without pissing at least someone off, right?

The exercise of going to a building filled with hundreds or thousands of people to listen to a talking head and sing some songs is a peculiar one, irregardless of what you may believe in terms of God and religion. I’m not alone when I say that ‘going to church’, as we know it, is a struggling fiction at best, on it’s death bed at worst. I’m speaking specifically about the ‘time and place’ gathering we call ‘going to church’, not all the other functions of the local church (that’s another post unto itself); so stay focused with me here.

This might scare you. This might encourage you; as it does me.

Being & Doing
Let me state right here and now that it is of utmost importance that Christ Followers gather together at the same place and time as often as possible for the purpose of being the church balanced by as much, or even better, more doing Kingdom work. I am in NO WAY advocating we stop getting together. I’m also going to be speaking under the umbrella of basic Christian truths and keeping in practical. That is to say; I’m assuming you and I have the same basic theological framework for our understanding of this conversation.

Yes, I’m excited about this cultural change. I’m excited because I see the flip side of this reality and there is possibility there if we are willing to look and willing to change. Let’s start with Sunday and ask some questions.

What do we hire the Sunday morning experience to accomplish?

That is to say; why do people go to church? I’ve had this conversation with my team, church leaders around the country and spoken about it at various conferences and leadership gatherings. I’ve narrowed it down to three things and everything you do during a time and place gathering of the church falls into one of these three buckets; spiritual experience, community experience and content consumption.

This is where we are running into roadblocks in innovation and creativity because we are chained down by the limited possibility of the time and place gathering. Let me show you what I mean.

What is the absolute best way to have a spiritual experience?

This is hard to answer because it is a very personal thing, but in short, spiritual experience is at it’s best when we draw near to God. The problem is, we all do that differently. For some drawing near to God happens when they are deep in the Bible or singing worship songs or serving people or being in contact with His creation. Once you’ve listed all the ways different people draw near to God you quickly see that it is not something that scales well at all. It’s clear that corporate singing of songs is about as scaleable as you can get, which is why it has stood the test of time. It’s not the best way to have a spiritual experience for most but it is good enough for scale.

At it’s foundation, it is simply not possible to scale spiritual experience in a time and place context. True spiritual experience is far too personal, sure we can scale surrogate spiritual experience but not the real thing.

What is the absolute best way to have a community experience?

This is an easy one; sit around a table and have a meal. The table is the centerpiece of true community. Although not super scaleable; on a meal by meal basis it is, however, really easy to pull off.

What is the best way to have a content consumption experience? Or even better; how do people prefer to consume content?

Right now, in 2013, it is clear that people prefer to consume content in video form on a screen in an ‘on-demand’ manner. The average American watches nearly 20 hours of TV per month, 830 minutes of YouTube.com videos per month.

Clearly these three things that we have leaned on ‘going to church’ to serve to us are far better experienced and exercised in contexts that are much different than what we have spent so much time and money building.

What are the outside pressures prompting the need for change?

“Great, you boiled down what ‘going to church’ is Vince, but what does that have to do with the future of church?”

I’m glad you asked.

I don’t have to convince you that culture today is different than that of 100 years ago and now that we have distilled the going to church experience down to the raw ingredients we can see that is has not changed in 100 years. Sure the packaging has changed but the same three things are the product; spiritual experience, community experience and content consumption. Our current version of going to church, in western culture, has not changed since before the industrial revolution yet society has changed dramatically.

Let me show you.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I’m speaking strictly in terms of practicality. I want to talk about the practical reasons why ‘going to church’ as we now know it is a struggling concept. Here are just a few thoughts.

Family Redefined

In, what may be the most foundational book in the church’s understanding of the post-modern shift in culture, Jimmy Long’s ‘Generating Hope’, we just scratch the surface in terms of how Generation X relates to their family. Long describes a generation who, for many, view themselves as closer relationally to their friends than to their own parents. The western church and the act of ‘going to it’ has proliferated from generation to generation almost as an extension of the family unit itself.

Challenge one: Churches die as the next generation establishes a new family among their friends rather than their blood.

The church was the social centerpiece for the family unit. So much to the point that, historically, single people over the age of 30 have always struggled to feel at home in the western church; they just don’t belong. The ‘in’ point of the church was always blood family. Layer on top of that the reality that people are are having their first marriage later and later especially in more progressive cities.

Challenge two: Even more of those who want to attend a church struggle to connect simply because they are single adults. And as a result they see the church as only a place to consume content rather than a community experience.

Work to Play

One of the biggest shifts from Boomers to X-ers is the idea of play. Generation X takes play very seriously. The boomer tendency was to focus on a few points in the year to recreate, like vacation and holidays. Boomers also have a draw to suburban culture which comes with the work of upkeep on house, yard and vehicle; leaving very little time, energy and money for play. Gen-X and Millennials go so far as to build their life around their preferences in play. Into outdoor sports? Move to Colorado and figure out how to have a job that supports it. Into music? Move to Austin or Portland and build a career that allows it. Boomers prided themselves on hard work, staying at the same job for 30 years and going to church ‘because its good for you’.

To put it another way; we’re too busy and even play is higher on the list than going to church.

Challenge three: The act of ‘going to church’ is a lot of work and it comes at prime time for play…weekends. Not to mention THE prime time to connect in community.

Real Time

The world now moves at real time. Just yesterday the AP Twitter account was hacked and a fake tweet went out and within minutes the stock market dropped 150 points. Things change fast. The church changes slow…if at all. Being a part of a church experience is a cumbersome, slow and outdated fiction. The rising generations like to be a part of a tribe that is real time and can react to real life as it happens.

By nature, historically, the concept of church was ready made for real time action in the local context but when church was institutionalized it lost that ability. The biggest hurdle the church has to overcome is that it is dependent on people gathering in a place at a time in order to synchronize and coordinate them. That is slow. That is expensive.

Challenge four: Requiring lots of people to gather at a time and place is slow and expensive. The secondary challenge this creates is the disinterest of high capacity creative, entrepreneurial and important culture makers who are turned off by this cumbersome reality.

Expert Class

The expert class has been in charge of the church for a while now and in a culture where we all now have the tools and ability to create and share content at scale, experts just don’t have the social pull they once had. It’s not that career pastors aren’t as smart as they once were it’s that the value of the content they create has dropped significantly since the proliferation of new media; just like the film and music industries. The ability to scale, at little or no cost, immediately de-values the Sunday morning gathering from a content perspective. We cannot create a better mouse trap at any acceptable cost. That is to say; making the gathering more interesting or remarkable just won’t work. the film industry tried that.

People have been going to movie theaters less in favor of the convenience of Netflix and other on-demand outlets even though the experience is not on par with a theater experience. The movie industries answer? 3D movies. Make the theater experience better and people will come back. It hasn’t worked and it won’t work for church either.

Challenge five: Content abundance and easier access through new media has broken the information monopoly once held by the expert class.

This is just a look at the surface level, we could do this for days but I’ll stop there. I want to start building a framework for the future, but you’ll have to wait for the follow up to this post.

Until then, post in the comments some challenges you see the Church facing lately.

A Conversation With Gary Vaynerchuk

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A little while back Gary Vaynerchuk, who I greatly respect in terms of understanding culture, threw out an opportunity for pretty much anyone to schedule a phone call with him. I threw my name in the hat and forgot about it after a few weeks had passed. Then I got an email from Gary’s assistant asking me if I was ‘available tomorrow’ for a 15 minute chat with Gary. I wasn’t technically available, but Gary V was calling so I made it happen. Our team was off site for a two day retreat on a ranch somewhere deep in the heart of Texas. To my surprise the T-Mobile came through and I had connectivity.

I had pitched to Gary that I wanted to pick his brain about the relationship between creatives and ‘type A’ business minded people.

I told him my story of how throughout my career, projects and business dealings I had leveraged my ideas and creativity to make money and grow organizations for ‘type A’ people but time and time again was not content with the imbalance of reward coming my way for my efforts. I knew intrinsically that these two personality types need each other to accomplish great things but more often than not, the creative got the short end of the stick; think Tesla and Edison.

Here are some of the highlights from our brief chat:

Execution

As an idea person, artist and creative you often live inside your own mind a lot. We have to balance that with actually executing on those ideas. How you execute is different for everyone, but a big part of that is having a more ‘type a’ or driven person to pull the ideas out of you.

For the type A; you have to learn to trust the creative and learn how to build boundaries around them so they have a sandbox to play in. Make that space too constrained and you will run them off or paralyze them.

At the end of the day, you need someone to balance your strengths and fill in for your weaknesses.

Trust

This is a hard one for me having been burned by more than one cult of personality. Neither the artist or the type A can operate in their strength when trust isn’t there. If the artist doesn’t trust the type A then the best ideas never come to light. If the type A doesn’t trust the artist then micromanagement will destroy any progress.

Slow Down

When an artist is fully in their sweet spot they live in a reality that is literally a polar opposite from the type A and the same goes the other way. There are times when you both need to throttle back and sync up in a space and time that has a common language and substrate for you to make progress an execute. When you’re trying to lead in your strengths you are often much farther in the future than those you’re trying to lead. The artist is so in love with their ideas they can push them too hard and the type A can be so passionate about hustle that they get tunnel vision.

Gary said to me;

“The world has changed. It hasn’t changed as much as you think it has but it has changed more than they think it has.”

This came at a good time for me as I was heavily in a phase of future planning and working on strategy for our team…and I tend to live too far in the future for most people.