Trust Agents, one

March 22, 2010 at 9:22 pm | In ideas, social_critique, web | Comments Off on Trust Agents, one

Nearly two months ago (on January 20), Julien Smith came to speak at Victoria’s Social Media Club. It was a funny, informative talk, which is saying something, given the setting (a cold school gymnasium, a couple of technical mishaps, …the usual). I took Julien up on his offer to let me have a copy of the book he co-authored with Chris Brogan, Trust Agents …and sure enough, it arrived at my door within a couple of weeks. Thanks, Julien!

My plan was to read it (promptly), but a couple of other books muscled their way into the queue (they had library due dates, so they managed to plead priority, too).

Now at last I’m well into chapter 3, and it occurred to me that it makes sense to report out as I read.

Upfront, I admit that I’m not the likeliest candidate to benefit from the book, although I’m enjoying it a lot. It’s a good, well-thought-out and well-written read, which keeps you turning the pages. Smith and Brogan clearly have an excellent synergy between them, and that comes through in their arguments, case-studies, and anecdotes. The authors also provide “break-out boxes” in each chapter, which either explain specific concepts (eg., “How Building Trust Is Like Pac-Man,” pp.55-56) or assign the reader a specific ACTION item (effectively a tool-kit for implementing the ideas – eg., “ACTION: First Steps to Leverage Your Position within an Organization,” p.127). I really like this feature – and anyone who has an actual job or a business can learn so much here.

My problem is that I don’t have a business model – whether I’m in a semi-permanent transition or just a useless academic is something I haven’t quite figured out, but suffice it to say that my position at the longest end of the very long tail didn’t come about by accident. I’m just not very popular, and there’s not much in me to make working toward popularity make sense. I have no product, I’m not topical, I’m often obtuse, and the people who are actually interested in what I have to say can quite possibly fit into one room. A very small room. Ok, a closet.

But I am good at some things – like thinking, synthesizing, making connections, and seeing patterns.

So, as I was floundering around, thinking about how I’ve once again missed the boat on being socially relevant or building a tribe or belonging or being “one of us,” I was however suddenly struck by something:

In Chapter 2, “Make Your Own Game,” Brogan and Smith delve into games, into the idea that it’s natural for people to want to hack the rules of a game. They start by talking about Monopoly and other traditional, “analog” games, but soon go on to cover early computer games – all of which can be “hacked” in some way to modify the rules. The lessons gleaned from the game mentality apply, obviously, also to “real life.”

For example, p.34 starts off a section within Chapter 2 called “Set Your Own Rules,” which begins:

No matter what industry you are in, there are very specific protocols in place. If you are an aspiring young journalist, there is a ladder you must climb to get published in a respectable newspaper or to get airtime in a decently rated TV market. If you are a rock band, you spend years shopping your demo discs around to various people, play for years in small clubs trying to catch some attention, and eventually get a record deal where most of the money is made by the record company. Maybe.

Or, by using a site like MySpace, you make your own game.

That’s what the Arctic Monkeys, from Sheffield, England, did.

Further examples of independents hacking the gatekeepers and creating their own game include Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post), Radiohead’s Rainbow album/experiment, and others.

Right around reading that section, I thought, “This relates to the baby boomers bitching about how Millennials think they can march in off the street and start at the management level instead of working their way up from grunts.” How many articles have tried to analyze the Millennial attitude of not wanting to work one’s way up through the hierarchy, through the organization?

I read a few of them recently when I wrote my own blog post about Millennials and public engagement, but I don’t recall that they specifically mentioned gaming and hacking as shaping attitudes to “authority” (i.e., rules).

Smith and Brogan don’t broach the whole Gen-Y/ Millennial issue, but think about it: isn’t “make your own game,” inspired by hacking and what the authors call “gate-jumping” (by-passing an industry’s traditional gate-keepers), a defining Millennial outlook that’s irked many traditional employers?

Or, as Trust Agents puts it:

Because the web is a media platform, a communications platform, a vast sea of loosely joined resources, it’s the perfect place to gatejump. Trust agents know this. They live in this space. They look for the games inside the game, and they find ways to win. Why wait for permission? Just do it. (p.35)

Suddenly, what looked like a contradiction before (one, not wanting to play by traditional expectations or working one’s way up through the hierarchy, but, two, simultaneously being ambitious, a puzzle presented by the How Millennial are you? quiz) isn’t a contradiction at all. It’s just another variant of life-hacking.

So, thanks Julien Smith and Chris Brogan for making my brain, which loves making connections, happy by Chapter 3 already. I’m looking forward to seeing what else your book shakes loose in my head.

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