The Story of The St0ry

After many months of planning, my brainchild, The St0ry, came to life on January 5th in the overwhelming Real World Suite of the Hard Rock in Las Vegas. The single greatest achievement, the coolest part of the gathering, was bringing 30 absolutely fascinating people together in one room, for a shared experience and experiment.

The key theme was everyone’s passion for storytelling and the increasing importance of storytelling to everything. The language of storytelling is permeating more and more fields these days, as people begin to understand the true potential of digital and social media to impact our society. Every participant came with their own unique take on how our culture is evolving, the role technology plays in that evolution and how people, companies, organizations and governments should understand and evolve themselves given these trends.

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From some of my prepared remarks, meant to kick off the conversations:

…I’ll leave it to all of you to interpret words like disruption, innovation, and social for yourselves. Our gathering isn’t about getting more Facebook likes or how much white space to include on your website. Our gathering is about meditating over the fact that we now live in a world with Facebook and Twitter, with Tumblr and YouTube, with iPhone and Tivo, with Zipcar and Kahn Academy, with MakerBot and driverless cars.

What does that mean? How does that impact the way we communicate, how does it impact the messages, feelings and stories capable of being communicated? How do we promote businesses, rally for social causes, run for public office?

How are the chefs, journalists, academics, artists and activists of 2013 different from those of 1980, 1880 or 80? And, not less importantly, how are they exactly the same?

Getting exposed to the insights and opinions of those doing similar things but from different fields was a key selling point. We had published authors, Emmy winners, C-level executives, artists, social activists, high tech folks and a star chef. Each committed to staying offline, maintaining confidentiality and offering their true selves to each other.

Adding to the amazing mix of ideas and passions were three guest catalysts - Eliza Dushku, Kevin Smith and Ross Martin.

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How?

Through very generous grants from the Schusterman Foundation and Taglit-Birthright Israel, I had the budget to cover all expenses and arrange for a top-quality gathering. Given our intense, fast-paced, virtual, hyper-connected yet strangely disconnected world, Lynn Schusterman’s vision is that nothing replaces the power of in-person gatherings. She’s put her money where her mouth is and has funded amazing connection points for all sorts of people - and not just in the non-profit space. The St0ry follows directly from her vision of the value of highly-crafted, intense, offline, real-world gatherings. I encourage everyone to learn more about the ROI Community, which is how The St0ry was born.

What?

In the run-up to Vegas I was intentionally vague about what would actually happen. I worked with the team from the Center for Leadership Initiatives, Yoni Gordis and Beth Glick, to craft a very specific agenda in order to create an intentional flow to the 2.5 days we had together. Throughout the days there were group-wide conversations, 10-person sub-groups and even smaller “pod” groups.

The first evening was focused on shmoozing and getting to know each other. I think the Real World Suite helped set a cool tone and the open bar certainly helped the socializing. Among other things, every person was invited to share a “playlist of me” that represented their thinking, interests, etc.

The next day we got down to business in the Vinyl space at the Hard Rock (their small concert venue). The day was meant to catalyze lots of ideas, insights, brainstorms and more. We accomplished this through guided conversation topics, an amazing workshop on creativity and misunderstanding with Ross Martin of Viacom’s Scratch group and then several hours of group sessions with Ross, Kevin and Eliza.

Highly recommended TED talk by Ross on misunderstanding:

Each of our three special guests represented a different “lens” on our main theme. Kevin spoke passionately and vividly about the evolution of creativity, new formats of expression, new ways of distributing and monetizing content. Eliza shared very eloquently how she uses her celebrity to champion the non-profit causes she cares about, how she embraces new tools for their promotion (CrowdRise, etc.) and how she tries to get specific causes the attention they deserve. Ross clued everyone in on the amazing impact of millennials on traditional business models, pointing to the work his group does with GM, among other clients.

After more intimate sessions, where participants were able to delve deeper into each lens with each guest catalyst, we took another group pic:

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Our final day together was far less structured. The idea was to have all-day workshopping, where each person could propose a topic, pitch, problem, etc. for further input and expert consultation from the other 29 people. If the first full day was about embracing misunderstanding, generating lots of ideas and overwhelming the senses, the second full day was a chance to let each participant delve deeper into anything she or he wanted. We insured there was enough time to seriously consider how our time together could provide specific, impactful outcomes instead of just fun conversations.

After several rounds of workshopping, in various smaller groupings, every participant got 90 seconds on stage to give their own min-TED talk on their idea and its evolution (or whatever else came to mind).

We ended with a huge zoom-out, inviting groups of 5-7 people to share - using whatever medium or art form they wanted - a vision for “the story of our times.”

I’m intentionally leaving out lots of details because what happened in Vegas will stay in Vegas. It was a magical time, where people put away their devices and egos, didn’t have to play to an audience, got away from their responsibilities and engrossed themselves in the unique opportunity of being around 29 other truly interesting, accomplished professionals.

Graphic facilitation:

One of the coolest parts of the gathering was having a real-time graphic facilitator. Sophia, from Graphic Footprints, was able to capture the ideas being generated as they were discussed. Its an amazing talent and the graphic boards that came out were stunning. Here’s a sample, from one of our sessions:

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What now?

I truly believe the first incarnation of The St0ry was an amazing success. My primary goal was creating new bonds between a unique group of innovators and that certainly happened. I am sure several collaborations will come out of the gathering. I’m trying to figure out the best way to recreate the magic that happened, increase its scope and impact, especially as I continue exploring the next chapter of my career (since leaving Viacom).

Stay tuned!!!

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My Big Work-Life Update

After over two years working on amazing, forward thinking projects, across all brands and levels of Viacom, its time for me to move on. I don’t yet know what the next full-time adventure in my career will be, but I couldn’t be more excited for what 2013 has in store.

Its been an amazing time, working at the nexus of such fast-moving trends in Social TV, social media and digital strategy overall. Within Viacom I served as a thought-leader on ever-changing trends and a facilitator, working across silos and levels to connect lots of dots, launch lots of pilots, arrange enterprise-wide deals and whatever else I could to insure we maximized our potential.

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My famous wall of case studies in my office at Viacom about Social TV

Among external highlights, I’ve been a regular speaker and panelist at conferences about the future of TV, a guest blogger for LostRemote (the leading blog on Social TV), a subject for the book on Social TV, a member of the ‘top ten social media mavens in the media industry,’ and a resource for bleeding edge startups as they tried making the right connections across the complex landscape of such a large media company. I’ve built amazing friendships and professional relationships with so many people. No doubt these will continue and come into play wherever I end up next.

As far as what’s next, in my immediate future, the wife and I are embarking tomorrow on an amazing journey through America’s south. You can follow along as we #ShwirtzTheSouth (www.ShwirtzTheSouth.com)! The road trip spans from Savannah, Georgia to Las Vegas, Nevada, where I’ll be organizing an event I’m really excited about right before CES. Just to be clear, this event is not affiliated with Viacom.

An all-expense-paid, closed-door gathering that will span 2.5 days, The St0ry (www.TheSt0ry.com) brings together 30 of the brightest, most innovative minds, to discuss and strategize the future of storytelling and digital strategy. From C-level executives of hot startups to PhDs, Emmy-winners, published authors, film makers, artists, activists and managers of really successful YouTube content, this will be a one-of-a-kind event. I’ve also recruited Kevin Smith and Eliza Dushku to join the group as “guest catalysts.” This recent blog post best describes my inspiration for the event: The Great Storytelling Revolution.

That’s about all for now. Big life changes! Lots of excitement, lots of opportunities and I’m going to take my time deciding on next steps. If you have something interesting to share, don’t hesitate!

The Great Storytelling Revolution

As someone who’s always worked in the Internet space, I am noticing a new trend – the use of the language of storytelling to describe more and more of what we do. From product design to marketing, social media to corporate strategy, the themes of storytelling are becoming more and more apparent. Storytelling is as old as time (if there was a time before storytelling did it really exist?) but now its mark is appearing in the world of Digital and affecting much more than ever expected.

After reading this you’ll undoubtedly start noticing it too. Mashable announces a new homepage design that includes “storytelling units.” Story Worldwide launches as a ‘post-advertising’ agency focused on storytelling and making the point that “brands are competing with filmmakers, writers and entertainers, not other brands.” The news app startup Circa, getting so much buzz, focuses on creating “stories, not summaries.” A whole new offline, retail shopping experience debuts in New York named Story.

Just today there was press about Buzzfeed’s success, which is predicated on not displaying a single banner ad. They have amazingly talented people working with advertisers to figure out organic, storified ways of communicating their message into the fabric of the site.

The list really goes on and on and I promise you’ll start to notice it too, if you haven’t already.

I have a theory for why this is happening. We all know and talk about how social media is an engagement platform, not to be confused with traditional, overt marketing platforms. My theory is that we’re just starting to understand what that really means. Engagement requires a human touch, frailty, honesty, a soul. Stories are the best conveyors for that and ‘storytelling’ is a much more powerful iteration of ‘engagement.’ The better we become at storytelling, the more successful we’ll be.

From parody Twitter accounts to supercut videos, TED talks to the latest meme of the day (check out @SeinfeldToday) and so much more, we live in amazingly creative times, defined by a renaissance of storytelling that empowers altogether new tools to craft stories, new platforms to convey them and new ways to engage with them (and each other).

Technologies such as social and digital media need to be understood for their storytelling potential, not as technological ends in their own right. In an attempt to avoid using buzzwords, the language of storytelling has taken over how I describe what I do, what I think others should do and why I’m so excited to be in the Digital field (which is the fastest-growing storytelling medium in the history of the world). Any company or person not seriously pondering how to understand and relate to these trends is in danger of being left behind.

This is the key reason I decided to name my pre-CES gathering of 30 mavens The St0ry and it’s the inspiration for what I know will be a vibrant, passionate brainstorm over our several days together.

Will storytelling take social TV’s center stage in 2013?

As social TV continues to evolve, with more start-ups, more consolidation and broader impact on our industry, it seems appropriate to take stock of 2012 and try to foresee what 2013 has in store for the hottest buzzword in the media industry.

The easiest way to understand social TV in 2012 is as a technology and marketing vehicle. Digital marketing and digital product teams at media companies spent 2012 building apps, connecting to APIs and starting to understand metrics involving use of social by our audiences

On the product side, as an industry, we tackled questions like “how do we let people vote via Twitter?” and “do we need ACR solutions or should we not encourage on-demand consumption?” Perhaps most related to the bottom-line, we started figuring out that TV Everywhere is a major demand that needs to be supported.

On the digital marketing side, Twitter remained the de facto horizontal second screen experience. No “killer app” for social TV came close. We figured out the role of GetGlue, Viggle, IntoNow and others, while waiting for Facebook to make a bolder move in TV (we’re still waiting!) More broadly, we saw Pinterest, Instragram and Viddy become extremely important. Finally, we were excited to see Tumblr launch an ad product and work on discovery, justifying increased resources dedicated to Tumblr engagement.

Regarding the above, 2013 will see us evaluate the impact of Zeebox’s major US partnerships (that include heavy on-air promotion, unlike any other player in the field). We’ll continue to anxiously await Facebook’s TV strategy, while keeping tabs on the new Viggle-GetGlue merger. The biggest highlight will be TV Everywhere.

But there’s something even bigger that 2013 has in store; a new understanding that has the potential to overshadow other trends. It may take until the second or even third quarter, but eventually industry executives will start to think of social TV as much more than a technology or a marketing/distribution platform.

The big win, the ultimate expression and promise of social TV, is the understanding of digital and social media as storytelling media. TV’s best expression isn’t as a marketing tool for radio and social media’s best expression isn’t as a marketing tool for TV.

When conversations of social TV originate within the departments of TV executives, we’ll know we have arrived. Just as they don’t rely on their “digital executive” counterparts to tell them which cameras to use, or which editing software to use (even though both the cameras and the software are digital), so too will they take a much stronger stance in social strategy.

A key project to keep tabs on is Syfy’s Defiance. A massive investment and over two years of work brings us this new show and simultaneous online role-playing game (created by Trion Worlds) that will launch in April, 2013. More so than any other announced project, Defiance holds the best hope for showing the true power of convergence.

This switch in mind-set, namely the evolution from technology and marketing to storytelling, is a driving force behind my latest project, The St0ry. For 2.5 days before CES, in January, 2013, I’m assembling 30 innovative, fascinating people, behind closed doors, for an off-the-record discussion and brainstorm about the evolution of digital trends and the elevated stature of storytelling in what we all do. Although the event is a private one, I’m confident there will be several outcomes and conclusions that we’ll publicize.

Will social TV storytelling take center stage in 2013 as producers struggle to do more with less? Big bets like Defiance will be on everyone’s radar in 2013, so stay tuned…

-reblogged from my posting to LostRemote.com

Kevin Smith Shout-Out of The St0ry

Excitement is building for The St0ry. We’re just a few weeks away now! I can’t wait to kick off the event, after so much hard work over several months. Its going to be a wonderful collection of innovative people, including:

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The St0ry Shout-Out by Eliza Dushku

This is going to be an awesome event, less than two months away now…

-Definitely my most exciting side project to date.

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Introducing The St0ry

The St0ry

After several months of quiet work, I’m extremely excited and proud to announce my latest side project.

The St0ry is a unique gathering of 30 innovative, disruptive, entrepreneurial thought leaders, from a diversity of fields (media, academia, journalism, social activism and more), coming together because of a shared passion for the evolution of storytelling, digital trends and the increasing role of story in almost everything.

The all-expense-paid event will be held in Las Vegas, preceding CES, in January, 2013. Funding is generously provided by ROI Community and Taglit-Birthright Israel, as part of a series of gatherings for innovative Jews doing impactful work around the world.

My vision for the event is to bring together 30 amazing, fascinating people, get them away from day-jobs and comfort zones, behind closed doors, off the record, no audience, no live-streaming and no live-tweeting, for frank, inspirational and actionable discussion and brainstorming.

From C-level executives of hot startups to PhDs, Emmy-winners, published authors, film makers, artists, activists and creators of really popular digital content and YouTube channels, this will be a one-of-a-kind event!

In addition to the 30 participants, three groundbreaking ‘guest catalysts’ are joining for special sessions: director, producer, podcaster and digital innovator, Kevin Smith; actress, activist and humanitarian, Eliza Dushku; and Viacom Media Networks’ Executive Vice President, and poet, Ross Martin.

For full info on the event, visit TheSt0ry.com. Bios on all participants are also on the site.

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