Hyper Island Open Masters Digital Class

“You have to contextualize the fuckage.”

-Mark Camerford @markmedia

Shock and Awe. The first presentation of the first day was officially called “Individuals are being transformed. Societies are being disrupted.” but it came known to the group later as “Shock and Awe”. It was delivered by swedish emmigrant, digital native, cultural anthropologist and general smart fuck Mark Camerford. While the topic was certainly well-worn for anybody prescient enough to sign up for a HIMC, it was a perfect warm-up for the days to come. Mark, despite his general inability to step out of the way of the projector as he changed slides on his laptop, delivered some real nuggets of wisdom and like a foul mouthed, irish Mister Miyagi, guided us unseen onto the first step of accepting the digital world:

He made us all sign up for Twitter.

As someone who signed onto Hyper Island perhaps looking for a “language course” so that I could talk like a digital native, I realized quickly that there is no longer a formal digital language. Digital is not about expertise, but about understanding. It is a country that gives visas to Gurus and Neophytes alike. How you speak about it is as varied as who is speaking about it and why. This means that we can make up our own words, develop witty catchphrases and tailor our digital personality to who we are in real life. We cannot “step into line” with all other digital natives and speak a secret jargon. This means, in the real world, I can continue to bullshit how I will about the subject and be oh so clever with my own made up words and phrases.

Mark managed to distill the entire landscape into a few key points of interest, punctuated with curse words so you knew they were fucking important. Here they fucking are. (note: try to read these paraphrases with an Irish accent, it gentles it)

“Sign up for fucking Twitter.”  Twitter is not about sending cute status updates about the size of your morning shit, but about being present in the records of our time. Twitter is the central government of your personal network and the foundation of your digital world. Sign up for it or die.

“Fucking Forget Digital. Remember Networks.”   The importance of digital is not in the technology, but in the usage of technology to build networks. Don’t worry about being digital, worry about being networked. Digital is only a means, not the end.

“The Network is the base unit of communication.”  Your target audience is your target audiences audience. Fucking Golden.

“Websites are not where people go, it is where they are sent.”  We misunderstand the motivation people have for visiting websites. It is not 1995 anymore when a website was like seeing Jesus masturbating in a public toilet (miraculous and disturbing at the same time).  Websites are not the reason for being on-line. They are only one of the end results of curiosity stoked in the fires of a network. Mobile trends underscore this point greatly, as you can now access any site’s content in an abbreviated form.

“Change is disruption. Disruption is Friction. Friction is Painful. Change will hurt. Fuck. Shit. “  Knowing “Digital” is about pain management. Change has, and always will, fuck us up. If it hurts, it means we are probably doing it right. Digital change is no more disruptive or painful than was the industrial revolution or planting the first fields in a hunter gather society. It is about understanding the change, accepting it as irrevocable, and dealing with it best you can until you grow used to it.

“It is not longer about Privacy. It is about Publicy” (catchphrase score: 8. Word score: 5) Transparency is not a strategic choice for a company. We no longer ask “why should be show this?” but “why shouldn’t we show this?” Everything is already out there. There are no secrets (even the coke formula ended up on-line…) Public is now the default starting point for determining the distribution of content and information. Privacy is a choice.

“Now is dead. It is fucking dead. There is no “now”. Shit fuck ass balls. Now is dead.”   You have to not think about what is happening at this moment. While we strive to stay with trends, you cannot develop strategies against them. You have to think about trajectories. We must constantly query ourselves “Where is this trend taking us. Where will it lead? How can we plan to be at the arrival point of the next big thing, and be ready to move on as soon as it happens? Does anybody have an aspirin?” The challenge for advertisers is to be present in the ever shifting modern landscape, leveraging what channels and technology they are able to in order to stay in the conversation, but also must be constantly anticipating where the conversation is leading. Whew.

“Your iphone in your hands is the worst piece of shit technology you will ever own.” Things will always get better, faster and more amazing. And still suck.

“Broadcast quality is not about fucking technical quality. It is about emotional quality.” This was an tectonic point for me. As a guy that prides himself on his technical and aesthetic singularity, it was confirming a truth that people really don’t give a shit if the color is perfect or the type is precious. Technical beauty is a nice bonus. What determines if a piece of content is worthy of being distributed has nothing to do with how “competent” it is executed, but how resonant it is.

“Spend your millions, corporate tool… shoot with Ridley fucking Scott and score it with Hans fucking Zimmer. It is your million dollar spot against my grainy camera phone video of my cat staring at a laser pointer and freaking the shit out. Let the best :30s win, asshole.”

“Digital isn’t about tools. It is about Behavior and infrastructure” We spend too much time worrying about all the artifacts of the digital age. How does the phone work? What laptop or software should I be using? etc etc. Digital is not about the technology you have, it is about how you use it and what you build with it. Great point. But I still want a fucking iPad.

“Someone who truly understands digital is someone who thinks, structures, operates and understands networks.”  Basically, I think that the digital age will not belong to tech heads and basement dwellers (though they are important for making the age), but the digital age is the age of hyper socialite (catchphrase score:6) . The standout brands and personalities will be the people who truly understand social behavior and can foster connections between people through content sharing, information distribution and network building.

What was refreshing about the experience as the heavy emphasis on analog behavior by the all-star facilitators Sky (@skyfreysscole) and Amy (@elucidateAMY). We used such advanced tools as post-it notes, sharpies, Post-It Easel Pad notes and actual human conversation. For a class trying to get people to embrace the digital world, it was amazing to have it done in a way that was so human.

It made the difference between this being a bootcamp and a summer camp. Well done ladies.

The next pod was called “Technology is in Constant Change” and was given by Steve Goldberg (@OTwastaken) of OverThinking. Click the logo to the left to see their mission statement on-line.

Steve opened his presentation by  comparing the arguably greatest technological achievement of humanity to a shelf from Ikea. We learned how the internet worked in a simple, illustrative way. This was helpful for me to get over my “magic button” syndrome. I now know how the internet works. Even if I still can’t follow the instructions from my Ikea book shelf.

My main takeaway from this presentation was that I want Steve Goldberg on my side when the robots take over the earth. Smart, fast and cogent, his presentation was a fascinating overview of the trendline of technology and scientific advancement. It was truly mind-opening. Mostly because I think Steve had a brain control device in his laptop sending soothing pulses to our lizard brains.

According to Steve, we can look forward to: In-vitro meat. self healing fingers. 3-D printing of home nuclear fusion reactors. Private spaceflight, Quantum computing, wireless electricity and piezoelectrics. And potential enslavement by trillions and trillions of molecular machines.

However, all is not lost. While the bulk of the presentation was a 30,000ft look at the landscape, he did bring it back down to earth with some inspiring advice for brands and advertisers. We do not have to simple wait on the sidelines to promote the change that already happened, we can actually help make change.

Create the Change. Drive the Change. Catalyze the Change. That does not require overthinking. Visit the site. Follow @OTwastaken and buy Real Beef futures.

Throughout the  3 days, Sky and Amy took us through small workshops in order to keep our old, cynical brains invested in the process. As a result, a group of disparate strangers from all over the world became as cozy and intimate as 18 post-nap kindergartners. The established guidelines at the beginning of the session are wise guidelines in life and in business. The next team to present an idea to me will be presenting to a kinder, gentler, sweded Leo Savage.

The next module was by Tim Leake. (@tim_leake) and it was called “Ad-provising“.  After my initial eye-roll at the name of the pod, I was wholeheartedly taken in my Tim and his unique, approachable style. Tim was/is a traditional creative like myself, but only with better career decisions. His better judgement took him from name agency to name agency and finally to being a networking guru and respected digital protagonist. Also, Tim is an improv artist.

Normally, improv artists rank only slightly lower on my tolerance scale than hackeysackers and ultimate Frisbee players, but Tim was amazing. In an age when we can see every ad, know every agency and are inundated with amazing case studies, it is understandable that an “advertising” pod will be full of things we already know. But Tim brought a subject that could have been repetitive and gave us the first real Monday Morning Framework (catchphrase score:7) by weaving the creative process with the improv process as a way to identifying the Social Object (catch phrase score: 8) that will make any campaign stick in the minds of consumers.

It comes down to the following rules:

1) Listen

2) Yes, and…

3) A mistake is a gift

4) Make the active choice

5) Make everyone else look brilliant

6) Find the Game.

This last point was the most important for me. The idea of “finding the game” in a creative effort is supremely important. This is the ability to get to the heart of what is making a certain communication work. Try many small things around your strategy, limit your Scale of Failure (catchphrase score: 7) and pay attention. Something will stand out. Identify the “game” And build on that until a small idea becomes big. This is how Memes are created.

It came down to one great insight that helped me over the next days not just with the working process, but the personal process of setting goals.

Start Small. Scale up.

He had some other great stuff, but frankly, it was a pale comparison to this great wisdom.

The Swedish “self directed learning” style was jarring at first. I felt a little bit like that girl from School of Rock that was shocked that Jack Black would not be giving grades. In a way, it can be hard to swallow that you pay money and fly across the world to be told that you should do it all yourself. But that is the thing about Hyper Island… everything that Amy and Sky and the speakers said and did slowly burned in me a sense of self-motivated engagement.

I thought I knew digital before, but I saw it as a “thing” and wanted to know more about that “thing” But digital is not a “thing” it is a “way”, and Hyper Island focuses on showing you that “way” (Catchphrase score: 4)

Day 2 came around and everyone was in the mood to stop taking in the sites and start to get dirty. This is where enlightenment gives way to education. And Day two started nicely with a presentation from accomplished creative/developer/strategist/snarky bastard Darrel Whitelaw of co:collective.(@darrellwhitelaw)

I still have no idea what co:collective really is. This may be due to the fact that I was newly tweet addicted and missed the intro. But Darrell is a confident and eye level presenter. He took us through some examples of why businesses fail or succeed relative to how well they recognize change in the marketplace and their ability to Decalcify  (catchphrase score: 3) in order to benefit and grow from those changes. While the examples he used were fairly obvious and known (kodak/film, Music/distribution) it was a nice primer for how not to fall off pace. In a stroke of nearly omniscient preparation, a few minutes after finishing a segment on Kodak, it was tweeted that they announced bankruptcy.

A few of the takeaways that are helpful to remember:

“Every dollar invested in digital is a dollar invested in your business.”

“The real world does not reward perfectionists. They reward people who get shit done.”

“Start with a hunch. When two hunches collide, you have the idea.”

If co:collective is full of such people, I want to work with them. Expect a call. And I will see you at Grind.

The group activities were incredibly engaging. I live in a bubble. I work with other creatives and occasionally a creatively conditioned account or planner. This creates an ecosphere for thinking where the environment is constant, pleasant and closed. By paring us up constantly with people outside our disciplines, and whom view creativity and marketing in different ways, it was highly refreshing to realize that ideas are not the domain of the creative, but of the thoughtful. 

Collaborating with my fellow students really made me think about my overall approach.

The Data Party. It is hard to overstate how amazing this next module was. I will say this for Google. If all their people are like Gautham Ramdurai (@gauthamRamdurai) then they fucking deserve to take over the world and know EVERYTHING about me.

This guy is an all-star. Click his homepage image to the left to know more about this amazing individual.

For the next hours, Gautham took our brains and turned them inside out with a refreshing charm and intelligence. He completely redefined a subject that before hand was not only unmanageably broad but also immeasurably boring. He made us realize that EVERYTHING is data. Everything can be broken down to component parts, quantified, sorted and used.

In short, we are changing the very nature of physics. We are moving from an atom-based universe to a bit-based universe.  The change is irrevocable. Buy Google stock now.

Gautham’s talk gave us several interesting Monday Morning Frameworks. He broke down data into three main creative categories:

The User.

The Product.

The environment.

He then gave us two very simple rationales for why we create with Data. We try to give our consumers one of two things (or ideally both) Something:

Shiny: Advertising applications of data. One-off or limited use executions that give us something interesting to look at and experience. It is not something we use every day, but are somehow enriched by during a small amount of engagements. These things come and go from our lives and do not have value in their permanency, but in their interestingness.

Useful: This is the arena of the API. These are executions that take the form of helpful applications and interfaces that customers come back to again and again because the form a specific function that is helpful, convenient or integral to their lives.

Gautham nailed his talk. What is scary is that it was the first time he had given it.

“The more we share, the more we have.”

Jim Babb (@jimbabb) works with strategy at Undercurrent and with fun at a place called Awkward Hug. The basis of his presentation was a wonderful piece he did in asking his wife to marry him.

Click the left image to scroll through the story of his relationship and his marriage. It was a wonderful piece meant to set the table for a fun and in-depth conversation about the nature of sharing and our motivations for why we do. It also made me feel quite shitty for simply asking my fiance to marry me on a romantic weekend in Berlin. So screw you Jim for wrecking the curve. Dick move.

The second part of the pod focused on the process of Gamification, which I found really insightful. But the entirety of Jim’s presentation was a wonderfully frank and interesting way to think about the psychology behind social networks.

Why we share.

According to Jim’s talk, there are three main reasons we share: They are pretty straightforward, so I won’t elaborate too much.

To strengthen a bond. This is a more one on one sort of sharing. Perhaps the most pure. It is the basis of forming stronger relationships.

To give “me” status. Purely selfish. But not in  bad way. Sharing content and information as a way to give yourself bona-fides.

To define our collective identity. This is the driving force behind sharing within a network. To help define the standards of your tribe. Part of a collective effort to constantly reinforce who “we” are.

These motivations are intrinsic (driven by a personal need)  and extrinsic. (driven by an external reward). This may seem pretty simple and kind of “duh” except for how it leads us to the process of gamification.


I love gamification. It is the use of  game design and technique to get people to do something.

Limiting context “rules”——>objective “motivation”

The most common mistake in thinking about games is what is called Overjustification, and this is where an external award is put in place to supplant the intrinsic motivation. This has led to the over usage of “scores”, “badges” and “prizes” in so many on-line channels. It has led to the fallacy that it should always look like a game, that people always want it and that it should always involve a prize.  “gameification” is really about boosting the ability to do even more of what you already do.

For Jim, it is a simple equation

Understanding people = making things enjoyable = sell more shit.


A fellow classmate recalled a conversation he had with the head of the program while he was booking the class. He was advised to come with more people from his company. When asked why, the answer was so powerful.

“Because you don’t want to be the only one to come back to the office saying you saw a UFO.”

As the class moved into the later modules that covered affecting change within organizations and recalibrating the expectations of clients, employees and management, I can wholeheartedly agree. I would love to attend another Masters class with the heads of marketing of my three biggest clients.

The third day started with a module called “Resources“.  Our friend Mark Camerford returned with a vengeance. Once the shoes were kicked off, we were given a whirlwind tour of the analytic resources available for free on the web. This was another Miyagi way of also teaching much of the technical expertise required to cut the bullshit with clients and tell them exactly how and why you are doing stupid shit on-line. It was an important session that filled in many of the more tactical gaps I had in my knowledge base (like how to properly use the term SEO and when to responsibly use words like “algorithm” and “analytics”)

Mark had obviously put some Pepsi on his Froot loops that morning because he sprinted through so many sites and resources, he barely had time to fucking swear. I won’t revisit them all here because there were many and truth be told, I could not keep up with my notes…

The most important insight that I arrived at for myself as a traditionalist was the re-emphasis of good writing. The future of search, share, curation and aggregation will be not just single words, but in whole phrases and sentences. When developing a campaign for release into the world, a diligent and rigorous management of words will be necessary. We must identify the sorts of writings that will easily be remembered and turned into #tags. We must commit ourselves to what we are saying so that our campaign communication stays in a clear line.

After three days of talks, multiple workshops and a great deal of introspection, they Hyper Island Open Masters Class was a wonderful experience. I got to now a lot of good people, learn a lot about myself, and now feel like my visa to the Digital Country has been extended. Thank you Mark, Darrell, Gautham, Steve, Tim, Jim, Sky, Amy and Jocelyn for a eye and mind opening workshop.

I look forward to using the knowledge either this Monday morning, or the next…


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