How To Stand Out In The Attention Economy

There is blood everywhere. And lithe, scantily clad bodies. Music thrums hypnotically. Laughter rings. A weapon is drawn menacingly. Hundred-dollar bills float down through the fog. And don’t forget the cats: Aren’t they cute??
This is the modern media scape: An adrenaline-fueled, dopamine-engineered, titillating, exhilarating, unending plea for your ears, eyes, and mind. The channels are phone and screen, earbud and headset, social and search. The pace is relentless, and exhausting. Yet. We. Just. Cant. Stop. In today’s Attention Economy, any brand or business that wants to establish or maintain its relevance needs to grapple with these realities. Donald Trump has risen to the most powerful position in the world by deftly exploiting attention—indeed, he may be the most deft practitioner in the modern era. His any-hour-of-the-day tweets and off-the-cuff comments are too provocative to ignore. Just ask anyone at CNN.


The news cycle has become like a whiplash ride at an amusement park: Charlottesville, North Korea, hurricanes, earthquakes, NFL anthem controversies. It’s loud, and fast-paced, and a little scary. Was it ever different? Of course it was. When my kids ask me to show them what they call “classic movies” (basically anything that wasn’t shot in HD), they can’t believe how sedate the plotting is. I remind them that people actually used to wait until the evening news at 6 p.m., or even 11 p.m., to find out what happened that day. Now it is all instantaneous, a whirring, blurring swirl of information.

None of this is going away anytime soon. And we all have to react accordingly. Perhaps that means exercising a shade more discipline in how we spend our time. Professionally, though, we need to learn how to play this game for all it’s worth. Because if we don’t, our competitors surely will.
[Chart: Lazaro Gamio courtesy of Axios]

Easy to say; hard to do. One quick example: Giphy, the insta-video resource that now has—brace yourselves—almost 300 million users a day. Yep, more than Snapchat or Twitter. Betcha didn’t see that coming. What Giphy offers is a way to add emotional resonance to the often anodyne arena of messaging. It is a quintessential example of how much communications patterns are in flux, and how agile we all have to be in adapting to new formats and platforms.

Want to succeed in the Attention Economy—without losing your soul? Here’s how:


To get people to engage with content, you need to be in front of them. Even more, you need to be constantly assessing what others are doing, and adjusting your tactics and your output in real time. While data can be useful, the critical factor if you want to separate yourself is organizational metabolism: rapid, streamlined decision making. The most distinctive, impactful content requires taking some risks without losing sight of your north star.


Controversy is one way to gain attention: Brashly challenge convention. (You might call this the Trump Doctrine.) Violence and sex works, too. But such engagement is often shallow and short-lived. To understand what anchors deeper, longer-lasting connection, recall how Hamilton became a global phenomenon. Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda used a 200-year-old story to tap into core human truths. The best creative linking of ideas and feelings looks effortless, but it is an art. The best advertising has always done this, whatever the medium. Giphy’s success is built on enabling our creative expression, providing just the right, nuanced image to capture a mood.


Once upon a time, we made fun of hapless smartphone users who forgot to turn their cameras to landscape perspective before making videos. And then Snapchat turned those “mistakes” into a new, booming format. From GIFs to chatbots, the tools available continue to proliferate. Even what’s old has become new, like audio, thanks to podcasts and digital assistants like Alexa and Siri.


If you’re going to streamline decision making, take creative risks, and connect emotionally using new tools, it helps to have guiding principles. That’s not just about style guides and preferred, brand-appropriate words and images. It’s about clarity of purpose, the mission of your enterprise, what it is you really want to get done.  The word “authentic” gets thrown around, as if it’s something to be managed (or, in the worst cases, manufactured). But there’s no substitute for actually believing in something. Whether we kneel, link arms, or stand on the sidelines, our actions reveal who we really are.


Robert Safian is the editor and managing director of The Flux Group. From 2007 through 2017, Safian oversaw Fast Company.

How We Do It: Creating a Culture of Innovation

from Deborah Perry Piscione‘s popular book The People Equation: Why Innovation Is People, Not Products

One of the key differences between being a manager and being a leader is the focus from what you do in business to how you get things done. How do you enable employees who have good ideas to build upon them in a safe environment and make them great, free from the burden of bureaucracy? How do you start from a place of trust and measure results, not just in increments of time, but also by creative pursuits, productivity, and overall outcome?

Corporate culture, by definition, is the set of operating principles that people within the organization adopt, whether it is consistent with their value systems or not. People within the organization become indoctrinated into that culture, inevitably learn how best to function within it. Oddly enough, this assimilation makes them resistant to change, usually because of a lack of trust or fear whenever something new or different is introduced. By human nature, people are more comfortable falling back into old habits. Therefore, creating cultural change is just plain difficult, often so problematic that it can be accomplished only in the context of another, larger disruption to the organization.

But there is hope. A simple discipline can radically change your culture to a more open, creative, impassioned environment. It starts with Yes, and…..”

Humans are predisposed to respond negatively to new ideas, as it causes a heightened level of neurological and physiological reaction. This is heightened further when people putting forward those ideas are vulnerable and can be damaged by rejection. The emotion of denial — which often leads to “no” — can feel harsh to someone who has willingly just put an idea on the table. The function of the cerebrum is shifted quickly from “hope” to “anger”, blocking out rational problem solving and creativity.
At this point, compromise can often be perceived as watering down a vigorous idea. Responses of “No” or “Yes, but…..” are most often used: “No, we can’t pursue this idea,” or “Yes, but we can’t do this right now. Maybe in the next quarter.”

Cultures of How avoid the dampening of spirits and the atrophying of our innovation muscles by instead responding with “Yes and…..”. In the language of “Yes and…..” when you are greeted with a new idea, you respond in the affirmative and then try to redirect or build on the idea in a way that makes it more productive for everyone involved, especially the organization. This does two things:

  • It helps integrate the idea into your own thinking. The notion of Yes and….. is a useful device to force you to consider fully how you can make use of the idea. It doesn’t eliminate the possibility of eventual rejection…it simply suspends any rejection until all ideas have been played out and the initial premise has been more fully developed into something better and more useful.
  • It encourages the suggestor to come up with a further, richer, more deeply held idea that can enable further progress.

This practice was in plain sight at the Hacker Dojo in Mountain View, California, where a group of robotics hobbyists gathered to build robots on the weekend.  This all-volunteer group met on Saturdays and included a variety of interesting people: a former NASA scientist, a pioneering senior computer engineer, a precocious software engineer who was an entrepreneur in his teens, and a retired Lockheed-Martin satellite guidance systems engineer, among many others.  The team was trying to solve the problem that robots, without a good guidance system, don’t know where they are. The retired Lockheed engineer had an idea for how to solve this problem.  Satellites solve a similar problem by looking at patterns of stars. He reasoned that in the same way, the robot could look at lights on the ceiling and thereby figure out its location.

After a couple of weeks of effort, the Lockheed engineer came back with a light sensor mounted on a piece of wood.  Another engineer looked at the handiwork, saw the flaws, and used “Yes, and …..”  to suggest ideas to immediately improve the design. So instead of being rejected or limited, the engineer was inspired.  He  quickly came up with a system based on off-the-shelf cameras. A few weeks later the robotic navigation system could provide centimeter-accurate feedback based on ceiling lights.

The beauty of “Yes, and…”  is that it discards judgement, focusing only on boundless expansion of ideas…don’t worry, the judgements will come later. A set of next steps should be planned out to enable the idea to move as far forward as it genuinely has legs to do so.

Innovating is a vulnerable activity because it intrinsically deals with uncertainties. Human biology is built label uncertainties as threats, engaging our “fight or flight” response. Heck, if you knew what the outcome would be, it wouldn’t be innovation. So permitting people to fail is critically important. Providing allowing for failure, you build the psychological safety it takes to free the mind to imagine and be creative.

“For an idea that does not at first seem insane, there is no hope.” — Albert Einstein

Innovation always requires exploring new and unproven territory. By its very definition, innovation implies driving into a space beyond which all previous innovators have gone. If a person is innovative, they are always trying for something that has never been done — or trying something that others have attempted but failed. Frequently, the initial attempt of an idea is flawed. Yet in the act of trying, one might stimulate others to have ideas that are sometimes slightly better than the last.

These ideas may give rise to still other, better ideas, and so on. It is only through the vigorous pursuit of many flawed ideas that a good idea is found. In addition, if the idea is truly innovative and truly reaches for areas that are uncharted, how do we know for certain if it will work or not? This is where risk-taking skills, the collaborative nature of “Yes, and…..” and the primary focus on how things get done drive innovative ideas into remarkable improvements…and sometimes something truly game-changing.

The alternative, which is all too common today, is to limit new ideas from all corners of an organization and instead pay premium prices for great innovative ideas from outside the company.


Deborah Perry Piscione is an entrepreneur, innovation author and keynote speaker. Her latest book, The People Equation, explores the human side of making innovation happen.

Robert Safian Delivers Fascinating Speech to Business Leaders

By Kim Mikus, originally posted on the Daily Herald

Speed matters, as does a willingness to embrace new tactics and change in the workplace in order to grow as a company, award-winning national journalist Robert Safian told more than 500 business leaders Friday.

Safian has interviewed the most innovative CEOs in the country and shared what he has learned from stories he has written about them for Fast Company, Fortune, Time and other magazines. He was the keynote speaker at the annual Big Event breakfast at Marriott Lincolnshire held by Lake County Partners, celebrating its 20th anniversary.

Safian told participants the speed of change in a company is important. “Building a cadence of change” is key, he said, pointing to companies that have succeeded in this area, including Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon. “These companies are completely and continually redefining who they are. It’s not just an online seller of books or a place for college kids to meet each other,” he said. ” These companies are pushing themselves and they’re pushing each other in that process to continue to be more ambitious.”

Safian recently started The Flux Group, a media, insights and strategic advisory firm, after overseeing Fast Company’s print, digital and live-events content for the past decade.

Keynote Speaker Robert Safian

Safian said innovation is key and people in the workplace must work together to make changes happen. “Innovation often happens in the gap between silos,” he said. “We have to break down silos between the different parts of our business to be able to unlock those things” and find creativity and survive, he said.

Speaking of survival, Safian pointed to the father of evolution himself, “Charles Darwin noted that it’s not the strongest of the species that survives. It’s not the most intelligent that survives. It’s the one that’s most adaptable to change.”

Participants at the event said they were inspired by the speakers. “The key note was wonderful. One thing I picked up is that you have to be adaptable,” said Cheri Richardson of Gorter Family Foundation.

General Electric Large logo on Stage

Robert Safian onstage interview with GE Chairman and CEO, John Flannery



RS interview YT

GE’s Chairman and CEO, John Flannery, and Flux Group founder and former Editor-in-Chief of Fast Company, Robert Safian, discuss the future of additive manufacturing and its potential to transform the world of industrial manufacturing at Industry in 3D.

Vivek Wadhwa appointed Harvard Law School Distinguished Fellow

Vivek Wadhwa is rejoining his former colleagues at Harvard Law School to run a critically important research project on the impact of technology on jobs and developing policies to mitigate the dangers.

This is with Richard Freeman, the world renowned labor economist, Sharon Block, who helped key labor policies for the Obama administration, and historian/scholar John Trumpbour. The 3-year project at Harvard’s Labor and Worklife program will bring together a who’s who to analyze new data on automation and jobs and to brainstorm on policy.

Vivek will still be teaching a 12-credit course at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Engineering and will continue to work closely on CMU projects.

This project at Harvard is important because with the present course of technology, we are headed directly into the dystopia of Mad Max. Most people don’t understand how fast things are changing and how ugly the transition will be when cars and trucks begin to drive themselves, machines do the work of manufacturing and delivery, and AIs take over most skilled jobs.

What makes things worse is that the people creating the technologies want us to believe that as tens of millions of jobs disappear over the next two decades, new ones will be created—and we will magically re-employ the people who have been displaced. Others tout a mystical solution: Universal Basic Income, a handout that governments provide to everyone which solves the social and economic problems of joblessness. The reality may very well be something completely different.  Are we ready for an outcome where few jobs created and and the resulting despair?

Vivek have long been worried about this, and explained the central issues in a series of articles: We’re heading into a jobless future, no matter what the government doesSorry, but the jobless future isn’t a luddite fallacy,  We need a new version of capitalism for the jobless future,  Love of learning is the key to success in the jobless future,  What we’ll encounter on the path to the jobless future, and Ray Kurzweil on the future workforce (a debate Ray Kurzweil and I had in 2012—which triggered my deep concerns).  He also discussed this issue with Paul Solman on PBS NewsHour: Are we on the brink of a jobless future? and on BigThink: What Will Your Life Be Like in 2027?

Vivek Wadhwa is Distinguished Fellow and professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering and a leading keynote speaker on technology and the future.   A globally syndicated technology columnist for the Washington Post and co-author of The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Can Change the Future, Wadhwa researches how exponentially advancing technologies are transforming the world, including in the fields of artificial intelligence, medicine, nanomaterials, robotics, quantum computing, synthetic biology, and 3-D printing. In 2012, Foreign Policy named him one of the world’s Top 100 Global Thinkers, while in 2013 Time magazine placed him on the Tech 40, the list of the forty most influential minds in technology.


Tracy DiNunzio and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson

Tradesy buys Fitz (founded by Alexandra Wilkis Wilson), launches Tradesy Closet Concierge

By   – Correspondent, L.A. Biz
Apr 4, 2018, 5:17pm

Tradesy Inc., a website that lets women buy and sell pre-worn designer clothing and accessories, has acquired Fitz, a service that pairs customers with personal stylists.

Terms were not disclosed.

With the acquisition, Santa Monica, California-based Tradesy is launching Tradesy Closet Concierge, a service that includes wardrobe management by stylists, including organizing, styling and resale consignment services.

Tradesy Closet Concierge is currently serving the New York City area, including Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Tradesy plans to expand it to the Tri-State area and Los Angeles by the end of the year and all major U.S. cities in 2019.

The business’ most popular service is the “3-Hour Closet Curation,” in which two stylists reorganize the client’s closet, typically evaluating more than 200 items. Stylists work directly with the client to decide what to sell, donate or keep, and make shopping recommendations on the spot, as well as after the appointment via email or text.

Tradesy said the stylists, many from design schools and fashion houses, will collect the items for resale on Tradesy, which has six million members. The company said the service also offers women the opportunity to make the most out of the items they resell. The tiered commission structure is the lowest in the industry, enabling women to make up to twice as much as with other resellers, according to the company.

“The team at Fitz built an experience that absolutely thrills customers. Women just fall in love with having a perfectly organized closet, and form amazing relationships with their stylists,” Tradesy founder and Chief Executive Tracy DiNunzio said in a statement. “We’ve combined this top-tier experience with a new Tradesy consignment service that makes selling even easier. It’s everything busy, stylish women need to fully manage their modern wardrobe.”

Prior to the acquisition, Fitz operated in New York City. The company was the brainchild of Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, co-founder and CEO of Fitz, and known for her roles as co-founder of Gilt and Glamsquad.

“Tradesy is the ideal partner for Fitz,” said Wilkis Wilson. “With Tradesy’s robust technology, infrastructure and large fashion-savvy user base, the service we built will now be positioned to scale dynamically across the country with Tradesy’s millions of customers.”

Tradesy’s website and app enable sellers to earn money for apparel and accessories, while buyers save up to 90 percent on designer brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Chanel. It has received $80 million in funding from investors such as Richard Branson and Kleiner Perkins.

Thirteen Lessons of Innovation by Robert Safian

I got my first glimpse of Apple’s newest product as the sun was coming up. It was just after 7 a.m. on a Wednesday in January, two days after Apple executives, including CEO Tim Cook, began moving into Apple Park, the company’s new spaceship-like headquarters in Cupertino. As I was escorted around the gleaming structure, it occurred to me that it embodied everything Apple’s products represent: a glimpse of the future, and yet also something familiar—not science fiction, but a tangible vision made real.

When I sat down with Cook a while later, in a conference room labeled simply ceo, he talked about how central “humanity” is to Apple’s products, how tech specs and silicon advancements only matter if they enable users to improve their lives.

Apple has long been an icon of innovation. In an age of rapid change, what’s remarkable has been the company’s staying power. This year, it returns to the No. 1 ranking on our annual Most Innovative Companies list. Apple is the only business to have passed our editors’ criteria to make the list every year since 2008. Which does not mean that the company hasn’t hit roadblocks along the way; in fact, Cook was quite candid that innovation rarely unfolds in a straight line. While many outfits aspire to emulate Apple’s system, it’s the company’s adaptability that truly sets it apart. Apple’s culture combines intense effort, high standards, and a willingness to forge new paths, even if those paths may threaten the company’s existing products…click to read the full article.