‘Redesign the world’ was the theme of this year’s PICNIC. And to support this theme Mitchell Joachim from Terreform ONE quoted John F. Kennedy; “if man can create problems, man can solve them”. As always the international conference that combines innovation, cross media, design, and sustainability offered an inspiring three days of fresh ideas. Unfortunately we weren’t able to see all the talks, but we’ve made a small selection of the ones that we found the most insightful for advertising folk.

David Roman, CMO of Chinese computer brand Lenovo, talked about ‘Global Business Redesigned’. His most interesting insight was that the ‘net generation’ (aged 16-35, 1 billion in size), a generation that grew up with internet, has more in common around the globe, than different generations have in common within one single country. And it is because of this that the next generation enterprises will have a global mindset, will operate as a network and will be highly adaptive because of cultural diversity.

Roman’s prediction is already happening on Foursquare. Dennis Crowley, founder of Foursquare, talked about making the city easier in use by aggregating location based tips from the community – e.g. ‘when you enter the airport, don’t go to the first Starbucks, there’s one further down with not such a long waiting line’. The badges people can earn by ‘checking in’ places regularly, give the community a game-like incentive to contribute to the community. And this is one of the key success factors of Foursquare. Is life becoming a game, we asked ourselves.

When listening to Dan Hon, you might think so. Hon, co-founder of Six To Start and since this year working for Wieden+Kennedy, talked about the first Alternate Reality Game, The Beast, created by Microsoft to promote Steven Spielberg’s Artificial Intelligence in 2001. The game was set up as a ‘rabbit hole’, which means the consumer had to discover snippets of information floating around the internet, link them with each other, and by doing so solve a big puzzle. According to Hon it was this set up, that made solving puzzles the standard for ARG’s. Almost all the big ARG’s that followed, like Dark Night, Lost Ring, and Evoke were puzzles. Hon, a great speaker, said he was bored of doing stupid puzzles; “I don’t want to need a UV torch to get to the next bit of the story”. His point was that it was time that ARG’s started to entertain the mass, rather than excite a few nerds.

Cory Doctorow, an advocate of liberalizing copyright laws, talked about free content online. Since copying will only get easier, he says, people shouldn’t fight the copy culture, but embrace it. Doctorow clearly practices what he preaches, since his science fiction e-books are freely distributed online. Doctorow believes that it only stimulates people to buy his physical books. What’s more, a physical product gets more value when its digital equivalent is free. Doctorow further substantiated his point by using a brilliant quote from Tim O’Reilly “the problem for artists is not piracy, it’s obscurity”. Since it’s easier to capitalize on being loved, than on being obscure, it’s more effective to seed your work online, than to protect it from people consuming it.

Jeff Jarvis, professor at the New York Graduate School of Journalism and famous for his book ‘What would Google do?’, talked about the future of journalism. His eloquent talk, was larded with smart one-liners. Very convincingly he illustrated a future where old school journalism will collaborate with the community (read: bloggers, Facebook, Foursquare, etc.). His motto is “Do what you do best and link to the rest”. There’s so much specialized news on the internet, that it’s the task of new school journalism to organize this. Like Doctorow Jarvis is of the opinion that old school media shouldn’t be afraid of all this news, but embrace it. He calls it ‘the power of the human link’. And since today finding news starts with search, Google is not stealing from Rupert Murdoch, but actually giving him traffic. The importance of search has created a new reality; only if you can answer a consumer’s question, you exist. So all in all, Jarvis believes in collaboration between journalists and ‘the community’. But he makes his students realize that communities cannot be built, they already exist – quoting Mark Zuckerberg.

Evan Ratliff, writer for Wired magazine, found out that online communities are very powerful. He tried to disappear for a month and Wired challenged its readers to find him. People talked about him on Twitter, created websites, maps, flow charts with credit card purchases etc. If he did anything online, people found out within no time where he was and what he was doing. Though he took thorough measures not to get discovered – from hiding a server in Las Vegas from which he could work on his computer, to shaving his head – he finally got caught because of his gluten free diet. He was found in the only gluten free pizzeria in New Orleans. It proves that the community can easily organize itself.

Tom Hulme from IDEO talked very smartly about redesigning design. He showed a letter that American Airlines customer Dustin Curtis wrote to the company to share his frustration about AA’s website. He would never fly AA again, but as a parting gift he made a new, consumer friendly design. He received an answer from the web designer who told him he had several designs ready to be implemented. But doing so was impossible, because there were many different parties within AA who all touched upon the site and had a vested interest in submitting their own specific information to the site. With this example Hulme illustrated how many companies don’t design their company as a whole. Most companies exists of different islands that don’t work very well together. Apple is the best example of a company that has designed the whole; its business model, its products, its shops, its website, and its advertising are all aligned and designed out of one single strategy. The second part of his talk was about ‘business in beta’. The business model of the future is a business that is never finished, but constant in beta.

So what have we learned? We’ve learned that the global net generation will more easily connect, because of the internet roots they share. We’ve learned that the future of journalism is about collaboration. We’ve learned that freely distributing your e-books online can be profitable. We’ve learned that hiding in the offline world is extremely difficult, if you use the online world while doing so. We’ve learned that the community can easily organize itself – though Charles Leadbeater already told us that many years ago. We’ve learned that virtual badges are a smart incentive to make people share information. We’ve learned that the word ‘beta’ will become obsolete, because everything will be constantly in beta in the future. And, finally, we’ve learned that PICNIC host Jon Rosenfeld, from Boom Chicago, is a pretty funny guy.
Here some visual impressions of PICNIC.