Brain Crack, Innovation, Leadership

Forget the 30,000′ view of the marketplace, I am going into space for some cosmic observations. I invite you to debate a few of these ideas – one person’s perspective is never enough to really get a complete sense of things!

What is Brain Crack?

As far as I know Ze Frank coined this term on one of his daily videos from 2006 when he discussed the notion that having a bunch of brilliant ideas was nothing really, if you don’t act on them. It strikes point blank to the fear some of us have about their ideas being great but “would never succeed out there” etc. He is motivating us to get off our brains and do something. Otherwise, shut up. “Brain Crack” is such an awesome, clear description of that high we get from wondering what if – often followed by the post-drug crash and depression when we see someone else executing one of our brilliant ideas. He he, been there done that.

Watch the original Brain Crack episode from Ze Frank here.

I do not intend to discourage brainstorming and imagining though – it in itself has tremendous rewards, and often, the ideas in the mind are all that was necessary to have the glorious experience of the idea – the high if you will – and there is no need to execute. Your mind can indeed get the emotions flowing and a somewhat palpable experience of the concept. Plus, execution takes time and effort and sometimes other people too. This is all my way of saying don’t let anyone make you feel pressured. Instead, use the ubiquitous information and inspiration to find your own voice, have your own daydreams, and execute when you feel the irresistible pull.

I’d rather focus on what we do with the execution, more than what we do with ideas.

Twitter is an Innovator, But Not a Leader

So back to my question at the beginning of this post. To me, there is tremendous innovation taking place online in the past decade. But very little leadership. Twitter recently announced they will be selling ads in the content stream and they will be demanding a cut in ads sold by others in the Twitter stream. I was so disappointed, but not surprised.

Three years ago, when Twitter was a tight knit community of tech and communications early adopters, we literally begged them to charge for the service. We saw the intrinsic value of this real-time, widely distributed conversation and we wanted them to grow into a stable, successful business. As late as November, 2008, Guy Kawasaki ran a poll and over half still said they would be willing to pay – despite the usual snark attack common by internet communities.

Instead, they kept it free, getting more and more investment to cover server and development costs. Twitter has experienced crashes and growth issues throughout its entire history (including today – hence I was inspired to write this post.)

  • If Twitter were truly a leader and not just an innovator, it would have seen that “free plus ads” is a very old and not too successful business model.
  • If Twitter were truly a leader and not just an innovator, it would have seen that even a nominal fee would all but eliminate the huge waves of spam and bot attacks that cost it money to constantly track, clear out, manage and that irritate its users so much.
  • If Twitter were truly a leader and not just an innovator, it would have realized that big numbers hold less and less true value and that the quality of the members, the quality of the conversations, and the quality of innovations being developed by the user community are far more valuable than a whole lot of bots.
  • If Twitter investors were leaders, they too would have realized the unique opportunity that Twitter offered in the marketplace. It was truly a game changer – there was nothing like it even remotely. The impact it has had on the world is awe-inspiring to me. But it seems all they can think these days is “build your user base, sell ads around the content, hope Google buys you for an insane amount.”

Leadership is More Risky than Innovation

But it really is the secret sauce if you are looking for lasting change. Tom Friedman addressed this in his NYTimes editorial today:

Although there are many “innovation” initiatives ongoing in this administration, they are not well coordinated or a top priority or championed by knowledgeable leadership. This administration is heavily staffed by academics, lawyers and political types. There is no senior person who has run a large company or built and sold globally a new innovative product. And that partly explains why this administration has been mostly interested in pushing taxes, social spending and regulation — not pushing trade expansion, competitiveness and new company formation.

You see, leadership is the truly hard part in today’s marketplace. Ideas are coming at us a mile a minute, yet finding the time and the courage to actually go out and do things differently is a rare find. 37 Signals has been a leader in this regard, both innovating and leading by being willing to charge for their web apps from inception. We’ve used (and paid for) their web apps like Basecamp from the the beginning and love them far more and more. Meanwhile Twitter has become something of a cesspool – relevant mostly because of the third-party apps that make swimming in that muck a more productive experience. Many new Twitter users do not realize this but most of the innovation on the Twitter platform has come from the user community and third party application developers.

I can only imagine what a rich and fertile and innovative community Twitter could be if they had listened to their core users and started charging two years ago. Meanwhile, Twitter just buys more servers, gets more investment, and encourages robots. Now it is going down the tired, worn road of embedding ads and extorting others to pay them for ads on the re-purposed user-generated content stream. That is not innovation nor is it leadership IMO. And certainly not as much fun as brain crack.

What’s your opinion? I will talk in a future post about practical ways to find leadership within. It’s an ongoing task I assign to myself.

Photo Credit: “Desert Leader” by Hamed Saber on Flickr.