Connecting people and ideas through improvisation

Life is tastier when you take risks – Breakfast With Strangers

Breakfast With StrangersBack in December of 2012 I saw a thread on Reddit from two people who were driving around the country and trying to meet interesting people for breakfast. They were wondering if anyone in Phoenix could help them out.

Let’s see… random connecting with people, looking for good food, a chance to show off Phoenix? I was made for this like cheese for mice! I gave them a call and swamped them with ideas for places to eat, drink, shop, and visit, and a nice list of people they could meet with.

It turned out these fine people were Courtney and Matt from Breakfast With Strangers from Portland, Oregon. After getting married they launched a Kickstarter to help fund a trip around the US to have breakfast with interesting people everywhere they stopped. They had a rough travel plan, but mostly it was they two of them driving back and forth across the country in their van, the USS Pancake, and throwing out open invitations to the wind.

You can hear their thoughts on their trip and they people they met in this video they did with AOL. My favorite part is at the end where they talk about the most important thing they learned:

In Phoenix they ended up breakfasting with the most wonderful Jenny Poon and her husband, Odeen, at Matt’s Big Breakfast. Apparently they had dined at many IHOPs across the US and I could not, would not, let that happen in Phoenix.

I met up with Courtney and Matt later that night for drinks at OHSO Nanobrewery to show off some Arizona craft beer, and I ended up being dubbed the Breakfast With Strangers Moment of the Day back on December 6th, which was rather nice of them.

Now they’re working on a book of their adventures, and I’m looking forward to hearing the things they learned along the way as much as the people they met. You can follow their future exploits on their blog or on their Facebook page.

I love their entire project, but my favorite aspect is how they trusted themselves and others to put it together as they went. They could have scripted this out from Oregon before they left, but they would have met the majority of the amazing people they did, like Barry, the curator of the National Mustard Museum. As they said in the video, the happiest people they met were ones who took risks.

Plan less and see where the world takes you, but always eat a tasty breakfast.

Mission Possible: Engaging the public and spreading good deeds at ASU

Filling out the Dream Board

Filling out the Dream Board

A few months ago I was asked to come in and speak to a Socially Engaged Practice class at Arizona State University (ASU) about flashmobs and engaging the public. I’m an ASU alum, but rarely visit campus so had no idea what to expect. It ended up going quite excellently.

In my first trip to their class I explained a lot of the things I do around town, and (more importantly) the value I see in unexpected engagement and connections.

Engaging people on the fly, whether for a flashmob, advertising campaign, or art project, opens you up to outcomes that you could never foresee if everything was scripted. Rewards come with taking risks.

The class batted ideas around, and I returned for a follow-up session to answer questions and be a sounding board for some of their crazier plans. As always it came down to the balance of time, money, and what risks people wanted to take.

Spreading Good Deeds

Their resulting project was dubbed “Mission: Possible”, a crusade to get ASU students to smile and blow off a little stress during finals week. Class members would try to engage students walking across campus by complimenting them, giving them a high-five, or helping them out somehow. They would then hand out a “Good Deeds” flier that encouraged the recipient to pay it forward, and included a few ideas to get them started.

They also had some roaming singers, and people who lowered compliments to surprised students on a string from high overhead, and a giant board on Hayden Lawn where people could write what they wanted to accomplish before graduation (check out their answers). They worked for about an hour engaging strangers and encouraging them to participate.

Joys and Perils of Public Engagement

ASU Lives Flashmob Crew

ASU Lives Flashmob Crew

It was fun watching them work, and watching them get a big dose of both the up and downsides of trying to engage the public. They made lots of people smile, filled their board with student dreams, and brightened the day for a lot of people. They also learned how hard it can be to connect with a stranger, as some people weaved and dodged any attempt to connect. There also were, as always, a few jerks who tried to disrupt things or deface the board.

With engagements like this you always need to look at the net result, and that was a definite success. The class had fun doing it, lots of people walking by got an unexpected smile, and I got a free t-shirt out of it.

I hope more than anything else they learned the fun that comes from doing the unexpected, and I see them all trying things like this on their own in the future.

The best things happen when you shake things up a little.

A mysterious red button – do you push it?

An ominous black box with a small red button sits in a public square in France. First, watch what happens…

There are three reasons I adore this idea.

It’s fun. This is the most obvious thing about it, but what happens is far beyond just bells and whistles. Dancing lips? Super hugging hands? This is whimsical and silly, right out of the unbounded imagination of a child. Fantastic.

It’s risky. “Let’s take a giant box, put a big red button on it, and… are you with me so far?” I would love to meet the people who came up with this promotion, then the people who approved it and funded it. They didn’t take the 10,000th Fan from their Facebook page and give them a prize in a drab giveaway, they rolled some pretty crazy dice.

Companies seek viral buzz and word of mouth, but reward only comes from risk. This fantastic risk taking that not only makes for an incredibly creative way to get your name out (even to people who don’t speak your language), but says a lot about the company behind it. Any company able to create an idea like this has a fun streak somewhere in their corporate soul.

It rewards the bold. The people who stepped forward, gave into their curiosity, and pushed that button not only received a free trip but an incredible story to tell. The company pushed a figurative mystery button in trying this idea, while the people pushed a literal button.

If you want interesting stories to tell, if you want some adventure in your life, you have to be willing to take some risks and push some buttons buttons – even if you don’t know what the heck they’ll do.


The Domino Project

Reading Poke the Box

Reading Poke the Box - eye goggling may vary

I love to create stories, and I’ve always been fascinated with how ideas wind their way from the people who come up with them into the people who want to hear them. From having a single oral tradition for our myths and legends, we can now use methods that our ancestors would have thought so magical they belonged in those very myths they passed along. Sadly, all this technology at our disposal hasn’t always resulted in simplification, and the world of storytelling – especially publishing – needs some cleanup.

The Domino Project

I initially heard about The Domino Project as Seth Godin taking on publishing, and that was enough to get me nosing around. I’m a fan of people who like to rock the boat, and Seth is definitely an upsetter of seagoing vessels. Their web site added a bit of clarification:

The Domino Project is named after the domino effect—one powerful idea spreads down the line, pushing from person to person. The Project represents a fundamental shift in the way books (and digital media based on books) have always been published. Eventually consisting of a small cadre of stellar authors, this is a publishing house organized around a new distribution channel, one that wasn’t even a fantasy when most publishers began.

I still had (and have) questions, but they were looking for people to help out, so I filled out an application and was selected as one of their global Street Team to help spread the word on both The Domino Project and the books that come out of it.

This Street Team is an interesting crew, with a wide range of personalities and interests. Arizona gets double rep with Tyler Hurst also on the team, along with marketers, authors, publishers, and idea-junkies from all over the globe. Everyone seems to have a different reason for signing up for this, which should make it a fun ride.

Connecting Authors to Readers

My reason for signing up is my personal fascination for the (r)evolution going on in media. For books, giant monolothic publishers sit between the people who want to create the content – the authors – and the people who want to consume it. They control what gets published, narrowing a flood of great ideas down to a trickle, and make a lot of money from these middleman activities. Fortunately, the days of the middle man are ending. Like the music and movie industries before it, online technology is making the middleman obsolete. Self-publishing, ebooks, and audiobooks are just a few of the ways content creators are circumventing the publishing giants to get their ideas out.

Poking the Box

The first book in this project is Seth Godin’s Poke the Box. One of the things The Domino Project is already playing around with is pricing, reducing the pre-order Kindle version of Poke the Box to $1. If you want to get in on the deal you need to buy it before March 1st.  If you prefer the dead-tree version, or want to hear what people think about it before committing 100 pennies, I’ve already read an advance copy and can start talking about it after March 1st.

Writer’s Meetup

We’re also leveraging this whole little effort to see if there is interest in a Writer’s Camp / Meetup / Conference thingy. We’re getting together to talk about it at Gangplank in Chandler on March 1st at 7:30pm. We’ll be talking about Poke the Box as well, so stop on by with any questions, answers, or ideas you want to share.

This whole little effort has poked my own box, forcing me to get this blog back on the air and prioritize some other aspects of my overly chaotic life. It’s been an interested few weeks, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where it leads.