Unlocking Your Creativity

Have you ever gotten a great idea while working out, or mowing the lawn, or in the midst of some other activity requiring some kind of physical concentration, when your mind was “wandering?”

Or, if you are one who prays as a meaningful ritual of religious faith or meditates as a regular practice, have you ever had an answer to a difficult question emerge from it, with great clarity or certainty for what you should do?

bbv-wilberKen Wilber’s book The Spectrum of Consciousness is the classic book in the field of study integrating psychology and spirituality.

In it, Wilber begins with an oft-quoted remark by William James:

Our normal, waking consciousness is but one special type of consciousness, while all about it – parted from it by the filmiest of screens – there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different.

We may go through life without suspecting their existence, but apply the requisite stimulus and at a touch they are there in all their completeness…

As creatures of habit, which we human beings tend to be, it is a constant challenge for us to integrate a range of stimuli, as well as introduce new ones, into our lives.

When we do, the result can be rich connections to new and different ways of processing our internal thoughts, the world around us, and the connections that exist between everyone and everything.

bbv-prismAt a pragmatic level, the result can be figuring out a new method to solve a problem that you’d previously been unable to solve at work.

Or, it could be a new design approach or creative technique that just wasn’t working in your prior attempts.

There are dozens of ways you can expose yourself to new stimuli, including simple things, like:

  • Cross your arms differently, when at rest
  • Part your hair on the opposite side of your usual part, or vary your morning prep routine in some other little ways, like brushing your teeth first rather than last
  • Take a different driving or walking route to your office or listen to a different radio station, along the way
  • At the office or your co-working space, talk to someone you don’t normally talk with
  • And on and on in your daily routines…

Our bodies are like prisms, with our minds containing a spectrum of knowledge, thoughts, and ideas.

To gain full access to this spectrum, you must find the many ways to experience the world differently. When you do, who knows what creative, new insights await?

The Media Monetization Cycle

The media monetization cycle (MMC) is something that I’ve come to observe, experientially, from more than 30 years of working in information and communications technology.

In short, as the chart shows, experience has shown that new media go through three cycles of value creation: content, community, commerce.

bbv - MMC hand-drawnAnd, while all three are essential at some level, to the medium’s success, the quest for media companies and those that build on top of the medium (like the web) is to see how quickly they can reach the commerce curve.

Knowing that all new media go through the MMC, your strategy should be to anticipate the commerce curve and build a platform for facilitating the transition from content and community as easily as possible.

For applications development and infrastructure planning, this has broad implications for everything from user ID management, to client- and server-wide applications payloads, to schema development and database distribution, and more.

Ideally, you want to build all of those things, knowing that the medium will eventually get a place where commerce is a principle driver of activity across it, if the THE principle driver.

Understanding the MMC is more important than ever, because the pace of technology adoption has become faster than ever, as reflected by the chart from Singularity.com.

bbv - tech adoptionIf you are in a profession, like I am, where you are in the business of seeking to launch innovative new ventures that leapfrog or even transcend (a nicer way of saying “disrupt”) incumbent technologies, then the more that you build – from the very beginning – towards the inevitable maturation point of the MMC, the better positioned you will be.

Mainstream VR is Here

The New York Times (NYT) has launched a major initiative to integrate VR (short for “virtual reality”) into their digital news coverage.

Their first big reporting series with VR has been the stories of three refugee children.

bbv-HanaTheir stories are part of a larger series titled “The Displaced” that the NYT has been running for more than a week.

I’d seen the heavily promoted VR component to the story, but simply hadn’t taken the time to try it.

If you’re like me, VR has been something that you’ve been hearing about for so long that it seems too (1) time-consuming, (2) complicated (3) slow (4) or gamer-ish.

My opinion has changed.

Our NYT subscription includes the digital edition and the Sunday print edition.

IMG_8510So, this past weekend, we received – as we assume tens of thousands of others did – a Google cardboard VR viewer bundled in with the newspaper’s protective plastic wrapper.

It was sheathed with a nice GE-branded container and came with a small 1-page instruction sheet.

IMG_8511The VR viewer came pre-assembled and the instructions to download the iPhone app were straightforward.

The app downloaded rapidly from iTunes and its set-up instructions were simple.

However, there is an easy to reach FAQ section, just in case a little extra hand-holding is required.

IMG_8513The app and “The Displaced” story series were produced in partnership with VRSE, a VR high-end production company, specializing in VR films.

Each VR movie downloads to your smartphone, before playing.

So, ideally, you’ll want to be connected to a broadband wi-fi or hardwired network when you download the films.

With each movie, there is a bit of information, displaying its run-length, as well as its file size.

There is also a direct link to the New York Times “print” article for which the VR film is a companion.

IMG_8512REMEMBER: the NYT is a paywall publication that allows 10 free article views per month, after which a valid account is required.

Sidenote: the paywall seems to be working, as the company recently announced that its online subscription base had passed the one million subscriber mark. (Gee: it only took nearly 20 years to navigate that disruption!)

This was the first time I’d really used a VR viewer and I found the production values to be quite good.

The filmmaking itself was compelling, with the pacing and choice of shots, dramatic.

You are truly transported to another part of the world, instantly.

A few tips to optimize your experience, should you try it:

  1. Use headphones or earbuds to get the accompanying sound – it’s essential to the stories.
  2. Sit down when you use the VR viewer. Sitting will prevent you from losing your balance or accidentally running into something or someone.
  3. IMG_8516Use a swivel chair, when sitting. The filmmakers have packed so much into the story of each of the three children that you will want to take it all in, as a full 360-degree experience. A swivel chair will allow you to move in every direction.
  4. Dim or turn off your room or your office lights, if you can, to reduce the glare and get more of the full picture and color of the story.

Finally, VR seems to be hitting a mainstream tipping point.

With Youtube updating its flagship Android app to switch videos to a VR mode, it’s only a matter of time – months perhaps – when more and more of us will be choosing to watch our VR videos.

You know what that means, right?

bbv-mcflyThat Bob Zemeckis’s comedic-dystopian view of 2015 in Back to the Future II only missed its timing by a few months!

Who could forget the scene of Marty McFly’s future teenage son, outlandishly captured in full VR-viewing twitchiness at the dinner table!

God (and New York Times) help us!!

My Axes

sxsw econ impactMusic is big business. You don’t need to look any further than the economic impact report for SXSW to see the proof.

In 2015, the festival injected more than $317 million into the Austin economy, as a result of its two-week run and year-round operations.

Yet, music is also art. And, art is a passionate, sensory expression of human emotion.

In this respect, I first became an amateur artist back in the early 1970s. My paintbrush was my guitar.

Harmony studentIn musical lingo, a guitar is an ax.

I got my first one more than 40 years ago, while still in grade school.

It was given to me as a gift by a friend of my dad’s …a used, kid-sized acoustic guitar, like the one in the picture.

My dad’s friend had clearly had it for awhile, perhaps since when he was a kid, but decided to pass it on to the next generation.

The first “song” I learned on it was the Mission Impossible television show intro, way back before Tom Cruise was born!

My first electric guitar was bought brand-new off the shelves of Skaggs-Albertsons department store with my first big paper route money.

Starter guitarThe shape was generally a Fender Stratocaster body, with the classic sunburst finish.

But, that’s where the similarities ended!

It had two pickups (instead of 3) and a whammy bar that was so awful, every time you used it, the guitar would stay permanently out of tune!

But, it was loud, electrified, and mine.

I spent many a night picking out the melody lines of early Elton John and Alice Cooper songs on that guitar.

Harmony acousticSince I was primarily a bass player, I didn’t buy another guitar until high school.

But, in my sophomore year, a drummer friend offered to sell a Harmony acoustic guitar.

It had the sweetest action, the most beautiful sound, and looked just like the one Jimmy Page is holding.

I paid $100 cash for that guitar and played it for at twenty years. It was my constant companion in college and early married life.

It finally met its end when, as a new dad, one of my little bambinos, accidentally knocked into its stand and tipped it over, breaking the neck clean off. I was on business travel at the time.

ovation acousticMy wife, Rebecca, knowing how much I loved that guitar, bought me a new Ovation acoustic — a guitar I had always wanted, due to the gorgeous full sound they tend to produce from their unique bowl design.

It was a loving gesture and I still have that Ovation, as my primary acoustic, but I still miss the Harmony.

It was so wedded to my brain and fingers that I couldn’t let its memory go entirely, so I cut the head off and framed it!

Gibson ExplorerBack to electrics, all throughout my high school years, I coveted one of the two coolest rock and roll guitars in existence, in my opinion — the original Gibson Flying V or Explorer guitars.

My best friend, Jeff and I, would go to music stores in our hometown of Amarillo or, whenever we would travel to a concert or school field trip, the local guitar shops. Whenever I saw a Flying V or Explorer, I asked to try it out.

I came very close to buying a Flying V several times, perhaps the closest was on a trip to Ray Henning’s Heart of Texas music store in Austin, back when it was in the spot where the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar location is situated.

But, for some reason, I could never pull the trigger and, over the years, the craving has passed. To assuage it, I bought some other axes instead.

Gibson SGFor example, another Gibson I had a hankering for was the SG.

Not only did we share initials (“S”teve “G”uengerich), but I was attracted to its growing rep as the hardest rockin’ guitar in showbiz, courtesy of Angus Young and the bad boys of early AC/DC.

I owned a lovely tobacco sunburst SG for a number of years, before selling it while living in Louisville, Kentucky.

And, lastly, my friend Jeff sold (gave? traded? I can’t exactly remember which…) me his Gibson L6S.

Gibson L6SThat was/is a unique electric guitar, with multiple pickup settings and a melodic tone that appealed to a wide range of musicians.

Everyone from Paul Stanley of KISS to some of the greatest jazz playing talents of the day could be seen playing an L6S.

guitar-5The final electric guitar I bought was a Fernandez 3/4 electric.

It was something of an impulse buy, after seeing it in a holiday season edition of Forbes magazine, in one of those articles featuring unique and different gift ideas.

The jelly bean shape and built-in, practice amplifier where the sound hold is normally located, piqued my interest.

Upon receiving it, I’ve never regretted it, with the Fernandez becoming my current (and perhaps, last) electric guitar purchase. The neck has amazing action and the single hum-bucking pickup screams.

The simplicity of the set-up – an on/off toggle switch and a single volume control (who needs tone!) – are the epitome of rock and roll…I love it!

Last, but not least, the one acoustic guitar that I always had a hankering for was a Martin, because of their rich, extraordinary sound. But, I was always stopped short by the $1,000-plus starting price for a decent model.

martin backpackFinally, a couple of years ago, I bought a Martin back-pack guitar – basically a Martin guitar neck on the equivalent of a shoebox body – that was advertised for taking into the woods with you for campfire entertainment.

As you might expect, the play-ability is great, but the sound is so-so. They’ve stopped making them, the last I looked. But, it’s been a fun guitar to have around the house and, for $149, it was priced just right.

So, that’s it: those are my axes. And, if you ever come by the house, chances are you’ll likely see one or more mixed in with the furniture. Because, any more, that’s pretty much what they are – display pieces to accent a lamp or fill-out a sitting nook. Such is life!

Austin: First In Startups; Last In Funding

altounian-2An important new research study, led by my friend and Austin colleague, David Altounian, was released today.

While worthy in its own right, the study was inspired by a running debate David has had with other influential leaders in the Austin startup community.

The debate is a classic chicken-egg argument. In this case, which comes first: quality deals, or quality funding?

Others have been asserting for a few years that there is sufficient capital to fund ventures in Austin, but that the city lacked quality deals.

David’s instinct, on the other hand (backed up by significant experience as a multi-time startup founder), was that the deal volume and quality was strong in Austin, but that the city was handicapped by a weak funding environment.

After receiving his Ph.D. in Entrepreneurship earlier this year and transitioning to a full-time academic at St. Edward’s University and part-time practitioner, he decided “Why wait for someone else to settle the debate? I’ll do it myself!”

altounian-1The result – “The Capital Source Research Study” – is an important piece of rigorous research that puts forth a strong argument validating David’s instinct: that, indeed, insufficient capital is the city’s most problem.

More importantly, though, the surprise in the research isn’t necessarily the amount of early stage capital for getting new ventures up & running. We’ve written extensively about the availability of seed funding, including the sources that are “dark” and hidden in plain view in Austin and elsewhere.

No, the surprise in the research is the weakness in category representation of funding. Specifically, the study shows that the lack of funding in later stage and more mature sources – commercial bank options, mezzanine funds, private equity – is the Achilles heel in Austin.

In fact, the data, across 10 “startup” cities – using no less than a variant of Metcalfe’s law – persuasively shows that this issue of strength or weakness of category representation holds true.

For Austin, what this means is an intentional recruiting and cultivating of later-stage funding sources to become part of the city and region, for us to capitalize on the talent and deal pipeline that we’ve worked so hard to establish.

SXSW Interactivist

I’m a serious booster for SXSW Interactive. You might say, my booster-ism makes me a SXSW Interactive-ist (or “Interactivist” for short).

The reason is because, in my opinion, SXSW Interactive is one of the handful of institutions that deserves credit for helping to make Austin the thriving success that it is today.

sxsw-people saying

Of course, it’s success was never a guarantee. And, if it wasn’t for the “grind it out” persistence of Director Hugh Forrest and the willingness by ownership to take the long view, then it wouldn’t be what it is today…perhaps wouldn’t *be* at all!

Hugh writes about this history and others of his lessons learned as a startup event entrepreneur in the Director’s Cut edition of Naturally Caffeinated. His reflections alone are reason enough to buy a copy of the book!

Over the years, I’ve been involved in as many ways as possible with the festival itself including, as: speaker, panel moderator, exhibitor, sponsor, venue host, award honoree (for the Deweys), registration volunteer, programming committee member, housing provider, and – last but definitely not least – an audience member / festival-goer at the panels, music, films, and parties.

sxsw-cool memories

As a SXSW Interactivist, I try to respond to every survey, feedback form, and request for input as possible, as my small part to help constantly improve the event and keep it great! As a result, my digital footprints are in a number of places on the website…

sxsw-session recommends

For 2016, I plan to participate across the spectrum – as a Platinum badger – for the first time in many years, checking out the music, film, parties and as much of the 24×7 scene as possible.

sxsw-speaker listing

See you there, among the SXSW Interactivist ranks!

Are You Naturally Caffeinated? Get the Book!

Hey – the new book is here! Actually: the new booksthere are 3 of them!!

1 – Naturally Caffeinated: Addicted to EntrepreneurshipEbook (free download)

2 – Naturally Caffeinated: The Community EditionAbridged edition

3 – Naturally Caffeinated: The Community EditionDirector’s Cut edition


More than 70 contributors from Austin and around the world! Lessons learned and stories of inspiration! By experienced entrepreneurs, for first-time founders and students of entrepreneurship!

Learn everything about the history, contributors, publisher, special features and more on the “NCtheBook” website.

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