April 23, 2010
Transforming Collaboration and Creativity across Divides
By: Sam Ford, PepperDigital
Last night, my mentor–Henry Jenkins—spoke at the university at an event that has many surrounding media studies at “the Institute” talking, if Twitter is any indication. And, while his comments are directed at the creativity but also the challenges of work relationships within that particular university, I believe his words have great implications for professionals across multiple divisions of a company, for the public relations field as a whole, and for how various entities have conversations with one another in general–the collaboration between academia and the media industries/brands; the collaboration between newsmakers and news “consumers” (a word that I think greatly misunderstands the transformative role we all play in both spreading and shaping civic communication); and a variety of other “interdisciplinary” conversations.
Jenkins, who I am currently co-authoring Spreadable Media with (along with Joshua Green at UC-Santa Barbara), left MIT after two decades for the University of Southern California, a move from an institution where the humanities is undervalued to an institution where studying the media is a major focus of the school’s reputation. Last night’s talk captured the conflicting feelings many of us have about MIT–an environment that shaped who we have become as professionals even as it created deep frustrations along the way about the rigidity of certain disciplinary boundaries, even as MIT’s strength has long come from collaboration across divisions. Henry used a familiar MIT to sum this up–IHTFP–but I’ll let you readers look up what that initialism stands for. But his talk’s implications spread far beyond the particular boundaries of MIT, particularly two fundamental messages.
First, we can’t treat making things and thinking about things as mutually exclusive. That doesn’t mean some people won’t be more applied than others. Obviously, we need some people who are largely charged with watching what’s happening, thinking about culture, studying the history of media, deeply listening to the audience, and who bring that knowledge to bear on the current moment. We also need people who are largely charged with putting thinking to action. But the idea that “strategy” and “tactics” are unconnected to each other, that the people who do “strategy” work should do little to think about how it will pragmatically be implemented or that the people who do tactical work should not be expected to think strategically at all is ridiculous. We see enough of that happen within the media industries and the agency world. And we see that happen all too often in the academy–a lack of conversations across disciplines between the “studies” and the “practical” majors. That’s not to even talk about the lack of communication between the academic world, which deeply studies the trends taking place in a culture from a variety of perspectives, and the media industries, which are going to drive the implementation of the tools, narratives, and material available to our culture to discuss, spread, and contribute to.
This is the focus of Grant McCracken’s writing in Chief Culture Officer. It’s what many of us who graduated from the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT are seeking to do in our own work. Henry charged several sectors of MIT at being guilty of making things without thinking about their usefulness in any way. In that sense, it’s an example of putting major technological innovation into something that may serve very little usefulness for the culture as a whole, for thinking little about the social and human elements not just of getting technology adopted but of making the technology really resonate within its cultural context. But, beyond that danger of creating technology with little thought to how it will meet the needs and wants of people or communities, there’s also the danger when making without thinking of creating content that’s just not that compelling, messages that have no resonance and that no one will want to put in motion. In the Hollywood context now that he’s at USC, Henry talks about creating “transmedia” narratives as being a great creative potential that we’ve only scratched the surface of but, conversely, of the danger that Hollywood might use it as an excuse to create more crap for people to buy when “the dung heap” of Hollywood is piled high enough already. Marketers, public relations professionals, and advertising creatives can fall into the same trap, especially in the social media space, where often the “strategy” is scarcely more than the tactic itself, a victim of making without much thinking.
There’s also the danger of thinking without relationship to doing. Henry captures also the strength of the MIT model and how I believe it helped prepare those of us who came from the Comparative Media Studies program to make contributions to both the media industries and the academy through the idea of “applied humanities.” While the humanist should be a critic of our culture and many of the players within it, “applied humanities” calls for thinking through the value of collaboration between the industry and the academy, of taking the knowledge within the humanities and the insights humanities research creates and giving access to those doing related work outside academic walls. Applied research is at the heart of MIT but not traditionally at the heart of the academy, a reality that CMS and a variety of other academic programs at other institutions have sought to help correct.
Second, we can’t become too constrained by discipline. Henry points out that the MIT seal puts the humanities and the sciences with their backs to one another, a narrative that has in many ways played out over the years within MIT’s industrial walls. In Henry’s talk, he alludes to the positives of “the discipline”–a body of work to draw from, a way of theorizing and training that is passed down, etc.–but also the negatives–the idea of constraint and punishment for breaking outside the box. The Comparative Media Studies program sought to draw not just between a mix of “thinking” and “doing” but also a mix of disciplinary backgrounds, from anthropologists and cultural theorists to business school types and professional communicators to historians and literature scholars. In the marketing and communication world, we see the lack of collaboration among professionals in a chosen field as the competitive mindset overtakes a collaborative one. We see a lack of collaboration among marketing disciplines, as advertising and public relations and other marketing forms see themselves in competition with one another for budgets. We see a lack of collaboration within brands, as departments compete for budgets and jurisdiction rather than working together to solve problems.
Today, CMS will be celebrating its 10th anniversary with a variety of panels, on the heels of Henry’s talk last night. I was honored with having the chance to shape the agenda for today’s events, and I’m looking forward to the perspectives of a mix of professors, research managers, and CMS alum talking about the nature of the applied humanities, the acceleration of participatory culture, the nature of global media flows, and the transformation of creativity and collaboration in a digital age. Sadly, there are way too many of us who can’t be there for a variety of reasons. It speaks to the power of digital media to be able to have the podcast of last night’s talk available to listen to immediately after the event was over. And I’m hoping that today’s sessions will likewise be made available shortly (in part because, before circumstances arose that prevented my attendance, I was scheduled to speak on the “Creativity and Collaboration in a Digital Age” panel). I have a feeling, considering how many interested audiences weren’t able to attend in person today, the event will be as valuable as a media artifact for discussion after the fact as it was a live event. The questions the CMS program has tackled over the past decade and that CMS and MIT will continue to tackle in the coming years have great implications not only beyond the walls of the Institute but far beyond the academic world as well.
Technorati Tags: applied humanities, Chief Culture Officer, CMS, Comparative Media Studies, Grant McCracken, Henry Jenkins, interdisciplinary, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, participatory culture, PepperDigital, Sam Ford, Spreadable Media, transmedia
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such a worth-while read!
What’s it all about anyway? Why should I go?
This day is about connecting today’s best practices with future possibles and envisioning multiple ways that stories might be told. It will change the way you think, design and communicate.
Digital Storytelling X.0 brings together visionary thinkers and innovative trail blazers for an in-depth discussion of emergent trends, best practices, and inspiring projects, to sketch out ideas of where we may be heading next and how to make your projects part of those futures.
Who is this event for?
If you’re a digital creative wanting to make the experience of your projects richer, more engaging and more immersive or if you’re a film and/or tv content creator interested in working in the digital media industry, this day is for you, because slapping on a twitter feed or creating a character profile for your project is so last year’s update.
The Interactive Narratives Initiatives
The Storytelling X.0 symposium is one of four components of The Interactive Narratives Initiatives project. INI, a project conceived and developed by C3/Communitech in support of FITC and it’s secondary partners, will be introducing to Ontarian storytellers a new software system that is a new way of telling stories. Shapeshifting Media Technology is the very latest in interactive content management software – by introducing a new media architecture featuring an adaptive nature that can change the users’ experiences on the fly during the playback of audiovisual content. In doing so, creators of audiovisual content in Ontario will be able to display their present content in a more engaging fashion than is possible with more traditional linear film or TV techniques.
INI is also made up of a series of events hosted by our secondary partners : Women in Film & Television (WIFT), Augmented Reality Lab at York University, CFC Media Lab, Communitech, Digital Arts & Technology Association (DATA), and the Writers Guild of Canada (WGC). INI is funded by the OMDC and lead by FITC.
For more information please contact Kathleen Webb.
FITC has produced events over 30 events over the last 9 years with over 15,000 attendees through 18 cities around the world. From Flash to Motion Design, Mobile and more, FITC events each stand as unique and exciting experiences that inspire, educate and challenge. We have also collaborated on dozens of other projects widening our scope and allowing us to bring you the best events out there when it comes to content, networking and of course great parties!
hey all! Storytelling X.O is almost here! hope to see you there!
Scott Walker’s Brain Candy has created “Runes of Gallidon…a living fantasy world designed for creative collaboration in an online community.
You’re invited to set your stories, art, games, etc. in the world of Gallidon. This fantasy world of adventure is shared under a Creative Commons license so you’re free to invent your own characters and places or use ones that already exist. You own what you create, but we all share the world.
Jump onto the forums, help build the wiki, contribute to the story, or simply enjoy a stroll through the galleries. However you choose to explore Gallidon, we hope you have fun!”