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Who wouldn’t want to be awesome? 09/29/2009

Posted by Paul Daigle in Uncategorized.
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NeoUmair Haque, Director of the Havas Media Lab, recently challenged the world’s markets with what he calls The Awesomeness Manifesto. In it he asks “What makes some stuff awesome and other stuff merely innovative?” His point? If innovation is the act of doing something a little bit differently, then are markets driven by innovation all that, well… awesome?  He goes even further in asking if the cost of innovation can exceed the benefits.

Innovation often isn’t. Innovation means, naively, what is commercially novel.

Yet, as the financial crisis proves, what is “innovative” is often value destructive and socially harmful. Financial “innovation” destroyed trillions in value.

A better concept, one built for a radically interdependent 21st century, is awesomeness. –Umair Haque

Though our culture is built on, driven by, and even a bit obsessed with innovation, is the enhanced value, meaning and quality of life produced always proportionate to the energies expended to realize those fruits? And, more importantly, can innovation be a double-edged sword?

He goes on to identify, what he calls, the four pillars of awesomeness. Each of which sound like an appeal to leave business for the sake of business behind to pursue the higher calling of true value creation.

Awesomeness happens when thick value is created by people who love what they do, added to insanely great stuff, and multiplied by communities who are delighted and inspired because they are authentically better off. That’s a better kind of innovation, built for 21st century economics.  -Umair Haque

Umair’s observations are quite similar to my own (see Gravity vs. Electricity).

He concludes by turning his manifesto into a collaborative exercise by inviting readers to contribute their ideas to the cause of awesomeness.

Here are my thoughts on awesomeness.

Capitalism, which is a reasonably good economic and social model, asks most of us to make a significant personal contribution in order to sustain our quality of life. We call this contribution “work.” Regardless of how much we like what we do, most of us see our careers as a means to an end.  We often keep professional and personal separate. We qualify our contributions through their financial rewards. We make our work, what is often our single greatest contribution to society, about making money and living well. Too few of us qualify our participation through our careers much further.

Does the disconnect between our day-to-day getting by and the net value of our output contribute to the kind of markets we see today? Markets where too many indistinguishable goods and services compete for our business. Where fierce competition for existing markets creates a cacophony of voices in the media working to distinguish themselves… creating secondary markets around consumer attention and mind share. If we consider the time, energy and resources that all this competitive activity expends, the environmental impact, the noise we have to filter through, and the time and energy we waste knee-deep in messaging, offers and hype… we have to ask: does this innovative marketplace, with all the heat and friction it generates, really produce net gains for society?

I’m not saying that Capitalism, free markets or innovation are the problem.  I believe that we are the problem. Do we recognize how our careers, our products and our companies affect the world we live in… really. Perhaps the pursuit of personal awesomeness can begin by reconnecting the value of our sweat to the net-value we produce in the market.

Innovation, the act of bringing incremental improvements to existing ideas, keeps us locked in an endless front-line battle for market share. Awesomeness transcends the value found in existing markets to create new markets. The pursuit of  awesomeness is the pursuit of game changing ideas, unrealized value, and truly original ways of thinking. Because we are so accustomed to imagining new ideas and value propositions within the context of existing markets, we have a difficult time trusting or embracing the promises unleashed by awesome thinking. This insecurity prevents awesome thinking from becoming an embraceable model.

Instead, we view awesomeness as a phenomenon produced by a few gifted geniuses. Steve Jobs, Howard Schultz and Oprah Winfrey have the magic touch for creating markets. A Pixar or Nintendo’s succession of successes are accidental or otherworldly. The rapid ascent of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are too singular to teach us anything that we too can employ. By exalting our real world examples of awesomeness, we don’t allow our best case studies to reveal the fundamentals of awesome thinking.

Our biggest challenge is to demystify awesomeness, to help it become a more understood and attainable pursuit. Only by working together to define, recognize, uncover and support awesomeness can we unleash awesome new companies, and create jobs that impart the personal benefits of delivering awesomeness to the marketplace.

Being awesome, especially in this economy, is incredibly difficult. Awesomeness almost always requires monumental amounts of self discipline, courage and persistence, along with a willingness to risk what we have to get to something better. Awesomeness demands that we stand against well established ideas, and openly challenge entrenched paradigms. The pursuit of awesomeness can cause friends, family members, and even our most trusted advisers to question our sanity. Because awesomeness can be disruptive to existing markets, there may also be some who don’t wish us well. The barriers to awesome are high.

Today the web gives us access to a wide and rich stream of information, ideas and communication. We can leverage this new channel to help the models behind awesome thinking become more understandable and embraceable, and help awesome success become more attainable. My question is this: How can we work together to explore and convey the principles of awesome thinking?