Sunday, January 30, 2011

Art in Ice (3D)

While people in many parts of the country fight cold weather and struggle to deal with snow, the people of St. Paul, Minnesota celebrate it with a Winter Carnival.  They have been celebrating their Winter Carnival since 1886!

Here are some stereo 3D images of the ice carvings in St. Paul's Rice Park and one from the Orchid show at the Conservatory.

All images were captured with a Fujifilm FinePix Real 3D W1 camera and converted to pairs and anaglyphs with Stereo Photomaker.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Freemiums are Frenemies of Creativity

The current resurgence in creativity is a natural result of the economic forces that dominated the last century.  From the creation of assembly line manufacturing by Henry Ford to Walmart’s obsession with supply chain management, 20th century businesses maintained a relentless focus on lowering costs and prices.

In the last quarter of the 20th century, automation and globalization pushed costs down even further to the point where it became difficult or impossible to manufacture many products in the United States.  However, it was an environment where software developers and similar types of creative enterprises could thrive.

The rewards for creating a hit software application or a hit song were enormous.  Once the initial costs of development or recording were covered, the only incremental costs of each additional sale were the packaging and distribution. Mass marketing campaigns and limits on shelf space in retail stores concentrated the successes into a few “hits” each year.

Everything changed in the 21st century. The first step of that change was documented in 2006 by Wired Magazine Editor Chris Anderson in The Long Tail. Anderson observed that the Internet economy makes it easier for electronic retailers to stock and for consumers to find a much broader selection of products.  Using Rhapsody, Amazon and Netflix as examples, the book shows how the Internet democratizes the forces of production and distribution while bringing suppliers with broad product offerings together with consumers with eclectic tastes. As a result, you can now pick from more than 25,000 DVDs on Netflix and more than 100,000 books at Amazon.

Anderson documented an even greater change in 2009 with Free, The Future of a Radical Price. Growing adoption of high bandwidth Internet connections in the home allow digital products like software, music, movies and games to be downloaded directly to the home. This digital distribution pushes the incremental cost of each unit to zero.  With the cost of these digital products at free, it wasn’t long before many of these products were offered to the final customers for free.

The term “freemium” was coined to describe the disruptive practice of making products available to most consumers for free and charging a fee only to those who want a more powerful premium version.  Another approach, perfected by the casual game company Zynga, combines free-to-play games with selling virtual goods like farm animals or weapon upgrades that enhance the players performance or experience. Zynga thrives by selling these items to a tiny percentage of its total users.

There is  a lot of room for debate on whether freemiums are friends or enemies of creativity. I think they are both and declare that freemiums are frenemies of creativity.

A market expectation of free places tremendous stress on traditional content creators.  Free doesn’t include any margin to amortize development costs or cover royalty payments or licensing fees. It makes it much harder to maintain a large revenue stream from a single creative act.  Free also raises quality expectations.  To sell a product in a market crowded with free alternatives, the product has to be really good.

On the other hand, freemium and virtual goods revenue models place a high value on continuous creativity. When a company like Zynga discovers strong interest in one of their games, they assign a creative team of 30 to 40 people to develop a continuous stream of virtual items to keep the players interested and involved. Musicians who make studio recordings of their music available for free are building audiences willing to pay to see their club and concert performances.

In many ways, the new economy limits the value of one-time acts of creation while celebrating the art of continuous creation.  One more reason why all of us need to develop our creative abilities.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

QR in 3D

I have been having fun with QR codes, stereo pairs and anaglyph 3D as a form of modern art.


                                                                    Self Portrait #1

                                                                  Self Portrait #2

                                                                  Self Portrait #3

                                                                  Self Portrait #4

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Your Creativity is Scary!

Your creativity is scary.  At least it is to the company where you work.

Outwardly, most companies try to encourage creativity. They talk about it in meetings and celebrate it in employee newsletters.  They post suggestion boxes in the break rooms and have ideas@yourcompany email addresses. But secretly, the management of most companies are genuinely frightened by real creativity.

They are frightened with good reason.  Most successful companies are successful because they have a business formula that works. Years or decades of company experience and culture teach that all will be well as long as the formula is followed.  When your idea challenges the company’s formula, it makes people very uncomfortable.

Even though your company doesn’t want your creativity, it needs your creativity.  Markets now evolve quickly and customer expectations can shift overnight.  The formula which worked in the past may no longer work today or in the future. Without new and creative business models, your company will eventually die.

The paradox of needing, but not wanting, fresh ideas feels like battery acid for the soul of the creative individual. How do you stay enthusiastic when everything seems to move so slowly and all of your ideas are viewed with suspicion or derision.

One approach is what Gordon MacKenzie calls “Orbiting the Giant Hairball.”  In his book of the same name, MacKenzie explains that organizations are like a giant, densely matted hairball. When you are caught in the hairball, movement is stifled and progress is impossible.  Find a way to launch yourself out of the hairball and you can operate with enough autonomy to accomplish great things.  However, the gravitational pull of the hairball pulls you into an orbit which helps keep your ideas and progress in sync with the company mission.

With a sense of irony reminiscent of a Douglas Adams or a Scott Adams and the wisdom of a Zen master, MacKenzie is as entertaining as he is insightful. Orbiting the Giant Hairball is essential reading for anyone working within or leading in a corporate environment.

Find a way to rise above formulaic performance your company expects and provide the innovation it needs. Your sanity and the company’s future depend upon it.


Link to an interview with Gordon MacKenzie in Fast Company:

Thoughts on Orbiting the Giant Hairball from Luke Wroblewski:

Monday, January 17, 2011

Game Created by 8th Grader Climbs to Number 1

With hard work and focus, even a beginner can climb to the top!

Robert Nay, a 14 year old eighth grader from Spanish Fork, Utah and his mother Kari have created Bubble Ball which is now the number one free App in the iTunes App Store. Since it was launched on December 29th, Bubble Ball has been downloaded 1.5 million times.

As Dean Takahashi of Venture Beat notes, "That's pretty good for a solo effort."

Read the complete story on how Robert and his Mother created Bubble Ball at .

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Trends in Professional Portraits at Imaging USA

This weekend 10,000 professional photographers convened in San Antonio, Texas for the annual Imaging USA conference. Sponsored by the Professional Photographers of America, the event is an opportunity for photographers to learn from each other and meet with the labs that serve them.

Five trends were apparent in the professional competition prints:

1.  Faux Mattes - Why go to the trouble of making a beveled matte to trim out an image if you can build it right into the image itself.  Classic colors like black and white are most common, but the most interesting mattes use colors and textures pulled from the image itself.

2.  Extreme Contrast, Saturation and Sharpening - It seems impossible for a print to be too crisp.  The same image quality that you would expect from an LED HD TV is now popular for photographic printing.

3.  Artistic Filtering - A professional photograph must look like a painting.  Buy the best Photoshop filters you can find and combine them in interesting ways.

4.  Print on Metal - Several years ago, Kodak introduced a metallic photographic paper which looks great with highly saturated images.  Now labs are bypassing the photographic paper and applying the images directly to sheets of aluminum.

5.  Panoramic book pages - The shift from albums on silver halide paper to books printed on digital presses continues to accelerate.  Increasingly, these books are bound in ways that allow them to open flat and present a seamless two page image.

Photographic purists might be disturbed by these trends, but I feel they bring a freshness to professional photography and help differentiate it from advanced consumer photography.

Trim the Nonessential - Break a Few Rules

I could not write good ad copy.  My technical writing was good, my articles and press releases were fine, but my ad copy was flat and lifeless.

Whenever I needed to put together an ad, my marketing team would identify the key message and I would draft copy to communicate that message...copy that was clear but boring. Then I would send my draft to a freelance writer and she would send back something stunning.  But she had only made the tiniest changes.

After a few months of this, I asked her how she did it and her answer was stunningly simple. She took my draft and trimmed out nonessential words to let the most important ones stand out.  Then she broke a few grammar rules to shorten the sentences and quicken the pace.  Left out the subject noun. Or began with a preposition.

I believe her advice is magic for any writer or editor.  It is also a metaphor for creativity or even life in general.  

What nonessential elements in your work hide the most important parts of your message?  

What nonessential tasks keep you from doing your real work?

What rules should you break to quicken your pace and give your work clarity?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

When Your Name Becomes an Adjective

Today I was listening to an interview with author and interior designer Kelly Hoppen and she mentioned how it felt the first time that she heard her name used as an adjective, as in "the Kelly Hoppen style."

If your name were used as an adjective, what would it mean?  What would you like it to mean?

Hoppen also explained how writing her books on design and working on her new iPhone App helped her better understand her own creative process.

Here is what she has to say about confidence, belief and passion on her personal blog:

"I started my business at just 16 and I know that confidence can be a big hurdle for young people…actually it can be a hurdle for people of any age!  I know how to get the best out of people so when a person says to me that they want to start their own business I remind them that anything is possible, you just have to trust that it is.  I am a believer that you have to visualize your future and learn from your past mistakes to make things happen for yourself.  Passion, drive and determination will see you through so long as you believe in yourself and stay positive"

Here is a link to her blog if you would like read more:

In Touch: Texture in Design (Conran Octopus Interiors)Kelly Hoppen Home: From Concept to Reality

Kelly Hoppen Style: The Golden Rules of Design

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Age of Creativity

We live in the age of creativity.  As the economic recovery accelerates, there will be tremendous opportunities for people who can generate ideas and experiences that are unique and authentic. Software, clothing, business models, user interfaces, manufacturing processes....everywhere you look, the demands for creativity are unlimited.

On the other hand, the opportunities for people who don’t create unique value are continuing to fade away. If the tasks that you do, or your company does, can be broken down into a series of easily defined steps, then your job or your company is at risk of being outsourced or automated out of existence.

If creativity is in greater demand than ever before and a prerequisite for success or even survival in the new economy, many of us will need help learning how to become more creative.  How does a person who has been trained by an education system that stresses rote memorization and a work environment that stresses following instructions learn how to create on their own? We need to be taught.

Teaching creativity brings us to the heart of the creativity paradox.  I believe that creative skills can be learned and developed through study and practice. For most of us, we learn best when a skill can be broken down into simple steps which can be rehearsed. After we learn the basics, we can move onto more advanced skills.  However, once we can define a step-by-step process for creativity, is it still creative?

No one can teach us to be creative in five easy steps. Each person has to find their own unique talent and develop that talent in their own unique way. But we can learn methods and techniques from each other that can help us discover our own approach to creativity.

Seth Godin has coined the term “Linchpin” to describe a person who has unleashed their creativity and developed their own unique “superpower.” He calls on all of us to become artists and quotes Steve Jobs to point out that “real artists ship.”  

What I hope to “ship” in this blog are ideas and techniques to enhance creativity based upon my own personal experiences and the writings of experts including Godin, Daniel Pink, Mihalyi Csikzentmihalyi, Malcom Gladwell and others mixed in with musings on marketing, social media, photography and anything else I find interesting.

While contemplating a good name for this blog, I discovered an interesting Lens on Squidoo named Creativity and the Creative Paradox which has been assembled by Todd Edmands.  Check it out at .  You might also want to look at some of the blogs that I have included in the list below.

As we explore these ideas together, I am looking forward to your comments and learning how you develop your creative talents.