Austin's unique "BE"

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.

Co-working a prime example of Community Building

As told by ATXEquation student George Wilkes

Recently the ATXEquation class was graced with the presence of the ambitious Liz Elam. Liz is the owner and curator of “Link Coworking,” an up and rising new business idea that is gaining momentum across the globe. However, Liz prides herself especially on the uniqueness of her co-working establishment and her ability to not only cater to those who need a space to work, but to create a community within her walls.

Before our conversation with Liz the overall assumption was that co-working entailed the simple interaction of working together on the same project or for the same company in the same location. Liz quickly corrected us and opened an avenue for further discussion. A co-working environment is comparable to holding a membership at a country club. You pay a monetary value and in return gain a social experience. For the monthly or annual fee Liz provides a stress free working environment along with coffee, snacks, indoor and outdoor amenities, and the opportunity to bounce ideas off a diverse group of workers. The community is guided by Liz’s stewardship and a number of protocols to follow by. The protocols for the community are that each member must respect space, privacy and confidentiality of each other’s work. Members cannot simply shut themselves off within the community, interaction must occur.

According to ATXEquation, in order for a community to exist there must be a particular mission at hand. For the sake of Link Coworking the mission is to work efficiently while interacting in an environment, away from home, where the people you work alongside are pleasant and communicable. A community must have leadership, in this sense Liz is the leader and sets the example for the whole community. Through her stewardship others learn how to interact within the community while also becoming leaders in and of them-selves.

In order for Link Coworking to happen effectively Liz and her employees (interns) must interview and asses prospect members. On top of this requirement the prospect member must work one day at the center in order to assess their behavior and see if they are a good fit within the community. If all seems well Liz will allow membership and the member will sign and agree to a contract explaining all the guidelines and rules. Liz here is working as what Bijoy Goswami would call a Relator in his book The Human Fabric. “Relators focus on everything about people—their mood, their “energy,” body language, tones and how they are feeling.” With Liz analyzing prospect members she is ensuring that this particular individual can connect with the other members of the community. In doing this there is assurance that cohesion will exist and a new member will not create disruption among the community.

Connectedness is essential in a community, and this is what distinguishes Liz’s business from her competitors. By not allowing groups larger than two to join, she ensures no one “takes over the office” and that everyone interacts on an equal level. However, she is currently experimenting with a small business of three people who are trying out her service. Her rules have been iterated clearly to these new members and if all works well then she can consider opening to door various other groups consisting of more than two. However, this is a rare exception and she does not want to open to gates to groups of people who will use her amenities without contributing to the environment; or bringing negativity to the environment by having no interaction with others outside their work group.

The people she is attracting to her community are in the age range from thirties to forties, working out of home and are family orientated people. The idea is that people working at home have constant interaction with their family while working which causes two things. First, it is a distraction while working and is hard to separate home from work. The second is that when these professionals return home there is good balance between work and life. The spouse and children are excited to see them when they return home as opposed to no excitement when they stay at home all day. Her tough 9-6 hours are purposefully emplaced for this specific reason. She is encouraging a good balance between work and home so that people do not simply post up in her establishment all day and night while disregarding their family obligations.

Liz is also taking her community building outside of “Link Coworking” and is engaging with the entire co-working realm. In a national sense she and others are beginning a co-working association so that they can build collaboration among all of the co-working establishments within America. On an International level Liz has attended a conference in Berlin in order to learn the differences between European co-working and American and hopefully bring the two continents closer in co-working procedures. The goal is to build a cohesive community that can interact and learn from each other’s experience.

Overall, Liz Elam believes that community is the glue that holds everything together. It is what she believes in and is what sets her apart from her competitors. By bringing like-minded people under the same roof who share a common goal, Liz has been able to establish something special and meaningful for her members. The people who are apart of Link Coworking have become a family; missing one another when one is gone, knowing each other past their formal work experience, and care enough to help each other with their work. Liz has built her business model around creating community and is fulfilling a long time dream of hers while enabling the long time dreams of others.

Musings on Good Community

... excerpted from a class blog post by ATXEquation student Cat Burr ...

In class we've been gaining some insight into the dynamics of a good community. Community is a collection of people who are gathered together by a common topic or area of interest. A great community is very action oriented and its members are all connected to each other. The members don’t just know each other, but they are all deeply tied. Each community has its own personality. We're also learning that great communities don't just happen – it must be organized in a way that creates and communicates certain standards and protocols. Many communities operate on social capital.

Market exchange is about de-personalization, while community and social exchange can be very personal. For example, a guest will generally bring a bottle of wine to a party as a way to contribute and say thank you to the host. This is a much more common and accepted tradition than, say, taking $20 dollars out of your pocket and handing it to the host. That's the difference between social exchange and market exchange, and it's this kind of distinction that separates a loose, disconnected community from a great community.

More to come on how communities form and connect to create scenes ...