Austin's unique "BE"

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Vegas: City of Illusion

If Austin is "be yourself" and LA is "be famous" what about Las Vegas? "Be your alter-self" is the phrase that often comes up. And indeed, Vegas is the place to indulge our novelty and stimulus-seeking primal brains, where we can participate in the activities that allow us to let loose and have a good time. Its monikers "sin city," "adult Disneyland" and tagline: what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas -  perfectly capture the city's unique ethos. More over, when Vegas tried to be family-friendly a decade ago, it completely flopped and returned back to its core.

How does Vegas pull off its "be your alter-self" theme? By turning the whole city into an illusion, a magic trick, a mirage. First, and most importantly, Vegas is a mirage in the desert of Nevada. It appears, most improbably, out of nowhere, especially when approached by road. As if to exemplify the point, one of the marquee hotels on the strip is called the Mirage. Vegas has housed the largest number of literal illusionists, including Penn and Teller, David Copperfield, Criss Angel and Siegried and Roy and Cirque du Soleil's incredible shows transport you to different worlds. The illusion continues as you walk into Paris, New York, Luxor and Venice. You listen to musicians playing cover songs, either of themselves or others. Elvis finished his career in Vegas, playing the Elvis of a bygone era. You engage in the illusion that you can make money at a casino, whose odds are setup against you. And even on the streets, the illusion continues as buskers and street artists help to complete the illusion. In that sense, it's even more impressive than Disneyland, where all the performers are employed by one company. In Vegas, thousands of "independent actors" human and non, work side-by-side to co-create the fantastic illusion. 

And soon enough, you will hit the limit of your primal brain's enjoyment and it will be satiated. It seems the average is 3 days, but it's likely not much more than 5! At whatever place you hit your cut-off point, you're ready to get back to your real life, having fully enjoyed the illusion. Vegas has done its good work as the temporary off-road for your primal brain.

In 2013, Vegas got AKHOB, created by James Turrell, whose artistic statement reveals his fascination with illusion and created realities which perfectly captures the city's unique meaning. It sits atop the Louis Vuitton CityCenter Store and can only be viewed by appointment. After you enter the chamber and stay for a while, things start to distort and your sense of time and space warp. The illusion is at work!

The stewardship of a city's unique meaning, is incredibly important because it orients visitors and inhabitants alike. Interested in illusion-making? Come to Vegas! Interested in fame and the creation of personal brands? Come to LA! Interested in discovering and expressing yourself? Come to Austin! And so on.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Making a Scene

As told by ATXEquation student Sydney Comeaux

Up to this point, we have broken down the first two components in the Austin Equation—experience and community. While these elements are both imperative, the equation remains irrelevant without discussing the final outcome. At last, it’s time for us to begin investigating the unique characteristics of the third component—scene. The general idea of the term scene has been tossed around during lecture often, but it’s now time to start delving deeper with a more critical approach. In class we learned about three different perspectives that offer unique approaches for analyzing what’s in a scene and how scenes are made. The first perspective is purely Austin Equation-based. The second perspective focuses on scale free Networks. And, the third perspective is concerned with platforms.

The first perspective focuses on everything that comprises and makes up a scene. It is purely Austin Equation-based. According to this model, a scene is an aggregation of experiences and communities surrounding a particular area. The things you see within the scene are the communities and experiences that we’ve already discussed. Mapping is useful tool for illustrating the networks within a scene—not just what it is, but how everyone and everything within it is connected. While there are many scenes that are somewhat limited within their own networks, there are also some scenes that crossover. For instance, charity, fundraising, and non-profit organizations exist in every scene from education to music to media alike. For every scene there are several defining factors. In all scenes, there are a vast amount of experiences that aid in bringing and holding the scene together. Also, scenes are noted for bringing people from the outside in. In a sense, scenes are put on display. They bring all of the communities under one roof and can cross-pollinate with other scenes. Scene-level organizations, as opposed to communities, evangelize for the scene. In this way, they operate at a different, higher level. The steward-level responsibility is much broader as well. At the scene-level, you have to think beyond yourself; instead you must focus on how to integrate others.

The second perspective explains Scale-free Networks. These types of networks exist in every aspect of life including communities, scenes, nature, and so on. Scale free networks include many small nodes that are held together by a few hubs. Small world explains the short paths between any two nodes. Evolution occurs when hubs emerge through growth and preferential attachment. Competition exists as nodes with high fitness become hubs. Robustness denotes resilience against random errors. There’s something about certain nodes where connectivity is something they do. This is precisely how you get a scene. There are important nodes that hold the network together. Nodes also connect other nodes to one another. In class we compared this to DNA, which has the same network structure. From a stewardship perspective, you have to be strong, hyperactive nodes to have a robust scene. Connectivity must be nurtured because that is what creates a sense of connection, cohesion and so on.

The third perspective takes platforms into consideration. Platforms include architects or sponsors, providers, enhancers, and end users. For example, consider the iPhone as a platform. The sponsor or architect is Apple. The platform providers are Apple, ATT, Verizon, and others. The enhancers are the minds behind the varying applications, and the end users are the consumers that benefit from getting to use gorgeous devices that have integrated experiences. As a platform architect, you have to think through a lot of different complexities. There are a lot of different characters within a scene, so how do you help the scene move forward while still making sure that everyone gets what they need? Very few organizations are able to maintain a high level for a long time for this reason.

So, how does one make a scene? First, there must be quality experiences at the scene level such as Southby, ACL, and Fashion Week. There must be vibrant, unique communities that all serve a different purpose—think MRE model. Finally, there must be scene-level awareness and cross-community collaboration including events, members and promotions. When a person feels like part of a scene they should feel like they are not just a part of a small, independent group; rather they should feel like they are part of something much larger.

Austin Creative Scene Steward Marcy Hoen

As told by ATXEquation student Katie Dahlstrom

Brain researcher, hair stylist, and steward in the Austin creative scene, just a regular day in the life of Marcy Hoen, the Executive Director for Austin Creative Alliance. Austin Creative Alliance, whose mission is “to advance, connect and celebrate Austin’s arts, cultural, and creative communities”, was born about a year and a half ago. The ATXEquation class had the pleasure of hearing Marcy’s journey from her internship at a brain research laboratory fresh out of college, to her current position. “An embodiment of the Austin Equation”, as Bijoy dubbed Marcy, began her Austin art scene stewardship working as a hairstylist and manager at Saks Fifth Avenue. Fed up with the tired, old hair photos adorning the walls of the salon, Marcy decided to instead fill the space with local artists’ work. Word got around and soon other businesses and clients wanted her to do the same for their spaces. Marcy’s local art expertise then led to guided tours of galleries and curating of shows at private homes which caught the eye of Austin Creative Alliance, where she has been since last March. Marcy described Austin Creative Alliance as a “scene of scenes, without one strength you do not have the other”, which is represented in its logo of overlapping circles. She went on to describe what she believes about stewardship, “stewardship is about leadership…people are becoming more aware that they don’t want to be led…the community leads itself.” It is about listening, and going out into the community and seeing what its needs are. In stewarding a scene you have to find partners that may not initially be seen as a fit, but best serve the community. When asked, “why Austin?” Marcy’s response was a speedy, “Austin is the ‘Marsha’, everyone wants to do things the way we’re doing them.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Don't be part of the scenery, be a part of the scene!

As told by ATXEquation student Ben Lorimer

Starfish or Spider? These two models of networking have very different qualities. Out of context, other than the shape, these two entities are very different. In the context of scenes and social networking, they too, are very different. The spider can be seen as a centralized entity; it can't function without all of its parts. It has a clear leader and works to make economical profits. What is a starfish? Well, we look at the starfish as a decentralized model of human management of a network. One important quality to focus on when talking about a starfish is to understand the adaptability it has. If you cut off one of its legs, it will grow back; in some cases, a whole new starfish can regenerate from just one leg. Why then, is this model favorable? The beauty of this design feature is that there is no one true leader. Anyone can take on that role through example, but the important part of this is that the whole system works together to create something other than just market capital.

We have three areas of capital interest to look at: market, social, and political. We assign the spider to market capital, the starfish to social capital, and have political capital as an area in between the two. We see the starfish as a favorable model because of its commitment to adaptability and creating more and more social capital. Sure, market capital helps the world go round, but we want to step back from that and look at this in smaller sections. Take Austin for example. Austin is a city booming in entrepreneurial involvement. It's the "be yourself" city! This scene focuses around the starfish model. You can have one area of involvement and interest, but if it doesn't work out, breaking off and finding another suitable area of interest is possible, thus creating more and more social capital.

This is where we see the awesome example of Bijoy Goswami and his involvement in the entrepreneurial scene here in Austin. We talked about how Austin is being nationally recognized for its entrepreneurship, but which kind. Bootstrapping! Austin is the be yourself city, so why should that change in relation to local business? We're a city of unique people with unique ideas. Starting a local business, though Austin is full of them, isn't an easy task. It is more important that you first understand who you are and what you want to accomplish. That is the first stage of this model; the you stage. Second, it's the question stage. This is where you awaken and figure something out that you have a passion for and want to progress this passion on an entrepreneurial journey. Third, we have the ideation stage where you start "doing". Networking, talking to people, and getting your idea out in the community. Fourth, the Valley of Death. This is where you start to get your return on investment in a social sense. Never underestimate the power of social capital. From there, the final stage is growth. If the networking has been achieved, then your business may start to grow and expand further than you might have expected.

It's not about one leader in the entrepreneurial world; it's a collection of leaders that work together to exchange social capital with one another that will in turn help each other's entrepreneurial goals come to reality. Remember, don't be part of the scenery, be a part of the scene!

Group Presentations on Austin's Fashion and Food Scenes

As told by ATXEquation student Fred Tan

Two of the scene groups the Austin Equation presented today: the fashion scene and the foodie scene. This was the first of three presentations that will occur throughout the semester. In this presentation, the groups focused on the experience and community models.


The fashion group was the first to present. The experience the chose was a visit to the innovative jewelry store Kendra Scott. This jeweler is unique because they specialize as a community centered store, engaging customers in an interactive and personalized shopping experience. The have the customers design their own jewelry and wow them by never saying no to a design. The fashion group also touched on the various local communities in the fashion scene and listed several of them. Some of the communities identified were 2nd Start, Fashionably Austin, Fashion Freakout, and Tribeza Style. These communities, as they discovered, fit nicely into the community model. The fashion group went more in depth with the UT fashion community known as Hook Em’ Fashion, a community of University of Texas fashion enthusiasts with missions, events, and protocols.

The foodie group members were the next presenters. They followed the same presentation formula as the fashion group, but talked about… food. For their experience, they chose the 2010 Gypsy Picnic. Here, almost all of the food trailers banded together to showcase their food in a fun local community event. However, the group found that the experience was a large failure due to long lines, poor parking options, and food shortages. Despite its shortcomings, they Gypsy Picnic still met the criteria of the experience model, locating attendees with popular trailers, engaging them with a children’s playground and a cook-offs, and wowing them with live music and an environmentally conscious mission. The foodie group continued their presentation with a discussion about the various communities in the food scene. Some of the communities they listed were Austin Food Trailers Alliance, Casa De Luz, Vegans Rock Austin, Farm to Market, and the Whole Foods Community. Like the fashion group, they placed these communities into the community model and explained their mission, activity, interconnectedness, and protocols.

Personality and Experience reflected in Austin

Excerpted from a class blog post by ATXEquation student Anne Taylor

Recently in class we recapped the connections between the explored the 3 different personality types we have been studying, outlined in Bijoy Goswami's book The Human Fabric and the ATXEquation Experience Model.

The three types are the maven, the relater, and the evangelist. We reminded ourselves that the maven is knowledge driven. The relator wants to make connections. The relater wants the acceptance of others. They want to be in a community and the relator wants to have peace and harmony. The evangelist takes action. They persuade, multitask, and are the front leaders. We then asked ourselves what "type" is Austin?

We debated and at first many of us agreed that Austin would be a primarily evangelist city. In Austin, we get things done and make things happen. We make ACL, one of the largest music festivals in the country happen successfully every year. We then said that Austin could be the relater because we constantly network and we have so many different communities from music to non-profits that help define the city. We decided that the maven doesn’t seem like Austin although we took into consideration UT and St. Edwards are knowledge driven which is a key component of a maven. One student pointed out that, “Austin gives the idea that a lot is going on but we don’t see it happening”. Another said that “You need to have your niche or community or else you can feel isolated in Austin”.

After that discussion we moved on to recap the ATXEquation Experience Model: Locate, Engage, Wow. Why is this formula so important? This comes up in businesses and communities to measure positive and memorable experience. Without all three components it might not be a good experience. You have to locate yourself in order to engage. Engaging is the personalization in an experience and the work that is done. The wow factor is what you leave from your experience and can sometimes include memorabilia. We had 3 different creators of experiences come talk to our class, including Michael Barnes from the Austin American Statesman, Craig Nadel from Groovelabs, and the Creative Director from Alamo Draft house. What did these 3 guys have in common? They are passionate about what they do.

Finally, we discussed the reading we have done and how it connects to what we have learned in class. Richard Florida's “Who’s Your City?” compares cities and tells us that where you choose to live could be one of the most important decisions of your life. The Human Fabric relates to experience by seeking out different experiences by personal needs.

The class continues to be an interesting exploration into Austin, it's core "type" and how it's experiences create it's true personality ...

GoLab Austin redefining Co-Working and Creating a Community

As told by ATXEquation student Sydney Hilgers

St. Edward’s ATXEquation students were recently treated to a tour of The GoLab, a co-working office community located in the heart of downtown Austin that not only houses different companies, but also encourages networking between them. The term “co-worker” has recently changed from the familiar meaning of a fellow worker or work associate, to a more modern definition. Wikipedia defines co-working as “style of work which involves a shared working environment, sometimes an office, yet independent activity …those co-working are usually not employed by the same organization”.

Intrigued by this new approach to co-working, Steve Golab established The GoLab Austin, a community of “like-minded, creative people” and where professionals, who would normally work from home, can come together in a “safe environment that revolves around emerging technology and design.

The GoLab possesses all the elements that are required for a group of people to be considered a community. The GoLab is about connecting professionals and creating a functioning co-working environment. They also take action by having weekly “learning lunches” where the members of the community get together, have lunch and engage one another in what is new in their various businesses as well as the community itself. The members of GoLab are connected through their need for a coworking environment and those who do engage in business together are connected professionally. Finally, there are protocols within The GoLab such as membership fees and general behavior requirements and understandings within the GoLab members. Steve mentioned, “when a member has their headphones on that is the universal signal at here for ‘Do Not Disturb’,” Other such protocols like cleaning up common areas and remaking the coffee are other protocols that members of the community are expected to follow.