Strands of Genius: Fight the Desire to Have "The" Idea, The Despotism Scale, Do you Like the Things You Want?

plus our thoughts on: The GS Culture Compass

WRITING FROM | Nashville, TN
WORKING ON | Wrapping Up and Starting Anew


Dec 10 - Jan 16:
Nashville, TN


Between you and us, the last few weeks have been pretty hard, for reasons. That said, they have also been fruitful and satisfying. We wrapped our last two live gigs last week, one for the St Louis Digital Symposium and one for the lovely people at eatbigfish. We’ve been experimenting with MMHMM during the beta, and since the full release it’s gotten to a place where we feel good about using it to present, which has brought a whole new dimension to our remote presentations [or ‘shows’ as Faris now wants to refer to them.] ‘Pivoting to video’ turned out to be a very bad idea for most online media companies, led astray by Facebook’s remarkable miscounting of video views on their platform, but for speakers like us, it’s clear we need to embrace a hybrid model, which means developing and iterating our online performance and workshops.

[Anyone used or Makespace? Reply and let us know how it was?]

We got to spend some time IRL with our director of operations, Ashley, for an epic 2021 planning session, and we’re excited about next year. And the end of this year, of course. We have a big refresh coming very soon for the School of Stolen Genius - the updated site gives a flavor of the hotness that’s coming next year …

Faris is excited to tell you [hi it’s me Faris lol] that he has agreed to work on a second edition of his book Paid Attention. The publisher is wonderfully surprised that it continues to sell and the topic has become much more salient in the last few years.

“Attention is suddenly the most talked about topic in marketing”

It won’t be out until November [that’s publishing for you] but he will be updating and revising the entire thing and he’s working on some of the new material now, in case there are any attention-related things you wanted to send him for consideration.. FAttentionO…

We also just signed a big consulting and training project with a global marketer which will kick off just before Christmas, so we are going to try to take this week off. After today. And tomorrow, when we have our final the SOSG Year-End Meetup!

Join us Tuesday, December 17th  10a PT / 1p ET / 6p GMT
We'd love to say hello and hear what you've been up to. And one lucky attendee will get a little something special sent to them (snail mail style, y'all!) from our team. [Members only. You should enroll.]

Enjoy your week, we hope things are wrapping up nicely for you, so to speak.

This week, we’re especially thankful for:

the continued social interactions that sending presents continues to precipitate, Ashley, Wholemeal, Judy, renovations, tests and precautions, We are the Champions [Netflix], the new season of Big Mouth [Netflix], Faris’ dad sending over some childhood art he made, the blanket that Rachel Hogan gave Rosie for Xmas last year (which is finally getting some good use now that it’s cold!), family, coffee, and all of the holiday vibes.



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We’ve been thinking about shifts in culture a lot this year, for reasons, and began with our conception of the the pendulum of culture, swinging backwards and forwards, with some idea that the force of motion in one direction creates equal and opposite force in the other. We linked to a piece written by an old colleague of Faris’ a few weeks back on that [it’s good if you missed it].

At the most macro, obvious, political level, it’s hard not to have noticed how in the USA having its first black president seemed to lead to a lot of racism and the president that followed. In part, this is simply repackaging the idea of mainstream and counter-culture, which by definition exist in opposition to each other, shifting over time as some things that are fringe counter-culture get absorbed into the mainstream and monetized and so on.

However, we want to consider this framing more holistically, because it feels like it’s not as simple as a single axis, and it’s not as simple as just backwards and forwards.

In very broad terms, cultures have orientations around certain ideas. One is the idea of the Past vs Future, which broadly maps onto conservatism, which seeks to preserve tradition [“commitment to traditional values and ideas with opposition to change or innovation”] vs progressivism, which seeks change for the sake of equality [“support for or advocacy of social reform”].

Another important one is what we are calling Me vs We, which broadly maps onto Individualism vs Collectivism.

It’s not that either are better, or worse, but rather that societies need aspects of both. However, they tend to orient heavily towards one for a time, which leads to the resurgence of the other, thanks to counter-culture. Highly individualistic societies struggle with the collective actions needed to control pandemics, but they also tend to create incentive conditions for people and businesses to take certain kinds of risks, and so on.

Here’s the idea. Whenever a new innovation changes the dynamics of a category, or when massive exogenous events like pandemics force changes across categories, a renegotiation takes places along these axes. Some things are well conserved, some things should changed, some things are about individuals, and some things are about communities. But what? And how much of which?

To use an example we mentioned last week, Christmas was a social, public event until the Victorian era, when it began to shift into the home, becoming a private, family occasion. These renegotiations are always ongoing, accelerated by the aforementioned interventions, and the shifts themselves create opportunities as what is social becomes private, or vice versa, for some parts of the population.

Think about how Facebook started as a privacy-focused, private network, locked to your university, but became a ‘public by default’ platform, because $. Consider how Venmo makes your transactions public by default, and how Public, the share trading app, takes that one step further, turning trades, and gains and losses, into the stream of a social network. That which was Private becomes Public, as it were - that seems to be another important area that is being renegotiated. Uber made private driving public. Airbnb made private homes available to the public.

So, the compass we've been working on helps you see how innovations are moving along which axis, or axes, and suggests where opportunities lie, in either direction, as the renegotiation creates new audience expectations, and backlashes, etc. We are also working on a commerce compass, which shows different business orientations that capitalize on the shifts.

Any two axes can also create classic market map matrices. Here’s what it looks like at the moment. More on this as we develop it. Let us know what you think.


If we can ever be of help to you, even outside of a formal engagement, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

faris & rosie & ashley | your friends over at

@faris is always tweeting
@rosieyakob hangs out on instagram
@ashley also writes for deaf, tattooed & employed

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It's called Genius Steals because we believe ideas are new combinations and that nothing can come from nothing. But copying is lazy. We believe the best way to innovate is to look at the best of that which came before and combine those elements into new solutions.

Co-Founders Faris & Rosie are award-winning strategists and creative directors, writers, consultants and public speakers who have been living on the road/runway since March 2013, working with companies all over the world. Our Director of Operations is nomadic like us, our accounting team is based out of Washington, our company is registered in Tennessee, and our collaborators are all over the world. Being nomadic allows us to go wherever clients need us to be, and to be inspired by the world in between.

Hit reply and let’s talk about how we might be able to work together :)