I finally made it to an Ignite event, hosted by the lovely Tikva Morowati, and sponsored by O’Reilly. The format is great – five minutes and 20 slides per speaker. The event was pretty fast-paced, and the topics ranged from Samurai swords to Family Feud to data visualization.

My favorite? The NASA guy! Apparently aware of what a dinosaur the space program has become, the organization recruited Andrew Hoppen from his fledgling tech startup (he is now the newly appointed CIO for the NY State Senate) to help them get some new thinking into how they operate. His job was to look at the world outside of this giant closed-off government organization to see what was working for other people, and to bring those ideas in to promote transparency, build community, and open channels of communication.

The presentation was like a who’s-who of what’s right about organizing and community building. Just imagine all of the brilliant engineers who work for NASA – would anyone have imagined 10 years ago that an open workshop would actually improve their production, or that promoting their internal events would create such a buzz among ordinary people? I still can’t even convince most of my clients to embrace social marketing, and here is a government agency doing it!

I think part of the problem is most organizations’ enduring resistance to embrace what Red Burns always tries to create – a community where failure is an acceptable byproduct of innovation. At this point in social marketing, you have to be able to accept that there is no clear path to success. To paraphrase one of Andrew’s points about how he tried to change NASA,”where peoples’ lives weren’t involved, we wanted to be able to embrace failure.”