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Rob Patterson: Innovation – Found on the edge

This article, written by Rob Patterson, is permanently hosted here:

June 30, 2009


One thing I know is true – real innovation – the disruptive idea that shatters the old system – can only happen at the edge.

So this spring when I got a call from Howard Blumenthal, CEO of MindTV, in Philadelphia, my instincts told me that this was a very very important call.

No TV station is more on the edge than MindTV.

It is not a PBS affiliate. It broadcasts a stream of 5 minute shows mainly made by the public.  It is both on air and on the web.Its staff is very young – with 2 honorable exceptions. There is no union. The staff have their own voice in a way that I have never seen anywhere before in media or ANY other place of work. It was not only a novel TV station – it was a novel organization. It was what a 2.0 organization would be like. 2.0 inside and outside. How on the edge could that be?

So I booked my flight and flew down to see Howard and his team.

So what did I find? How to make TV, the Gutenberg of our time.

You don’t believe me? Please invest 5 minutes in this film .

Did you get it? I found it compelling. A beautifully crafted story. Here is a heartfelt comment on IMDB. Made by a real pro – right? No – made by a regular citizen, Leontyne Anglin, whose passion is the topic but who had never made a film before.

The impact of Gutenberg’s technology in the 1500’s was to give people a voice. If video and TV is the main means of communication today then the “New TV” has to give people a voice. This is surely more than uploading to YouTube or a station adding comments or some citizen video/audio.  To have a voice, you need the skill and the art of telling a story. Merely pointing and shooting does not make you a film maker. When you have the ability to tell a story well – then you need the space in a trusted place – so that your early work has an audience who trust what they will see.

This is what happens at MindTV.

Key to how MindTV works is its offer to help the public learn how to be real film story tellers. It’s core membership have joined a tribe of film makers with something to say. Then it gives the story teller a place on its Trusted Space.

How does MindTV do this?

First of all it has a production staff that is itself drawn from the public and not from the priesthood. It has attracted such a staff by its culture and by its intern system. While many stations regard interns as more trouble than they are worth, MindTV has made coping with many interns a norm. As such, the keen are fed into the system and the cream come to the top. The Cream become the DI’s of the Boot Camp system.

Secondly, it has a transformational training system modeled on and called Boot Camp. Transformational in that a citizen comes in at one end and by the time she has made her film, she is a true film maker.

Leontyne went to a Boot Camp. A one day very intensive course on film/story making. She was a cynic – how could she make a film? But she and two others took up the challenge. MindTV offers its film makers all they need to make a film – the gear and most importantly, the coaching of the DI’s.

The result is a real story. Leontyne is a new person. She is film and story literate. She has a new power in the most powerful medium of our age.

She is not an anomaly.

Here is a short documentary film made by an intern. It’s broadcast standard in every way – a strong story line and intricate editing combining old and new footage. The person who made this film is a film maker. MindTV is creating a core of accomplished story/film makers in Philly who can help their community as story tellers. In time, with MindTV’s support, Philly can have a cadre of the new literate working for the betterment of their city. It does not take much to imagine what they could do.

The incentive that MindTV offers its “students” and interns is that not only will they gain the skills that they will need for our time, but that the work will be showcased on TV and the Web by a Trusted Brand.

All artists want their work to have an audience. TV is 1.0 but it offers a reward like no other. “Hey Mom my film is on TV!” So MindTV is expanding its reach to other markets. It is building a national alliance in most of the key markets of the US – details here. The bigger the audience, the more the impact.

So what next?

It is no secret that all the public stations in Pennsylvania are under pressure with the Governor planning to cut all funding. MindTV is the most vulnerable being so far from the mainstream. This a reason for my post today. MindTv is not the full answer but it has most of the DNA for the full answer and so I felt compelled to tell its story now.

What can we all learn from this?

  • Set up a new organization to do this – The station culture is key. MindTV is a 2.0 Culture. With 30 plus years in the field of culture – this is no bull – what they say is how they are. So you cannot change all your station culture to be like this. I also now that to be true. So what can you do? Clay Christenson is clear – set up a separate organization to hose this aspect of the new – your transformational organization. I know of several stations that are thinkign along these lines. You cannot make  this shift inside the old
  • The Goal Is Self Relience – The goal is to transform your city to be self reliant – to do that you have to be able to tell the collective story of how people are doing just that in your city. To do that you need to have real story tellers and you have to give their stories the added value of your brand. Create a “school” for the new literacy. Bring in the people as interns. Bring in the young. Use your digital channels and the web as the “channel”
  • Get strength and power by connecting Connect to the institutions organizations in your city who need this kind of help – use your story tellers to give them a voice. Connect with other stations across America and the world – learn how to do this from each other. Increase the power of the collective story

The voice from the edge is where true innovation exists. MindTV is such a voice. It’s role is to give voice to the voice of the edge.

We will not get through the turbulence of our times by relying on the status quo in any part of our lives. So I do my bit to tell the story of Howard and his band of sisters and brothers at MindTV.

Bless them all.

Posted by on June 30, 2009 at 08:14 AM | Permalink


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Joe Excel

To bad nobody works there for long, since Howard is so hard to work for.

Posted by: Joe Excel | August 26, 2009 at 11:15 AM