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Firing NFTs From a Tee-Shirt Cannon: A Humble Metaverse Use Case

I first started blogging about the metaverse 15 years ago. Back then it was speculation about the adoption “stickiness” of Second Life, by Linden Labs. Much has changed, as evidenced by Mark Zuckerberg going all in — even renaming his Facebook corporation Meta, and paying the price in steeply falling stock value and frustrated employees. But there are things that have clearly not changed since Second Life’s arrival, and they suggest he’s on to something. They are listed below, with the fourth being most consequential:

  1. The metaverse remains bound in the temporal world — but is not spatial — as we know it in the “real world”
  2. The metaverse remains a reality that a group agrees to
  3. The metaverse is still reliant on the Network Effect for survival
  4. As true as it was last time with Second Life, if the metaverse catches on it will change everything

Let’s explore these one at a time.

1. Be Here Now, But Here Is Up To Us

With a hat tip to Ram Dass, I used his famous book title to remind you of the IRL world we call home. In the metaverse, the “now” is still immutable. Time cannot be changed. But the “here?” Negotiable!

Think about if you’ve ever passed a note in a classroom. And about the texts you’ve exchanged there as well.

The note is both spatial and temporal. It’s written on a 3D object (paper) and when you pass it to me, you see my reaction in real time, the temporal part of the temporal / spatial here and now.

A text from your cell phone to mine? You still see my reaction in real time, but the note only exists in a device.

This is the world of both Linden Lab’s metaverse and Mark Zuckerberg’s. One small difference is the blurring of the metaverse with Augmented Reality (AR). Unlike Virtual Reality (VR), mediated by a device such as Oculus, with AR aspects of the metaverse can be overlayed on the place you are viewing from, and the view through which you are experiencing in that device.

The metaverse in AR can play with our spatial experience. Which is pretty cool.

But let’s return to pure VR for a moment. What place does a VR headset take us?

2. Agreed-upon Real Estate

Robert Frost, in his poem Mending Wall, reminded us that, “Good fences make good neighbours.” Don’t believe him? Wherever you’re living now, please don’t contemplate strolling into your neighbor’s house or apartment unless invited. It won’t go well.

Why does this matter? The real estate in the metaverse is manufactured, and theoretically unbounded by physics.

My metaverse can be different from yours. But unless I’m throwing an insanely popular house party in mine, you’ll find my metaverse a pretty boring place (and frankly so will I). The temptation, in both Zuckerberg’s metaverse and Linden Lab’s, is not to leave things to chance. Instead, rely on real estate developers who know what they’re doing.

I can put on my VR goggles and meet in a really popular neighborhood, knowing I’ll have a good time and even find value in the acquaintances I make. It’s a neighborhood manufactured by an enterprise who will benefit from me and many others congregating there.

That’s why even in the early 00s, brands wanted to get in on the action. A manufactured place is not a stretch for a brand.

Debbie Millman, author, teacher and strategist, said that “branding [is a] process of manufacturing meaning.” It stands to reason: Why not keep manufacturing, and create a space consistent with your brand where people can deepen their feelings about it in an expansive and curated communal space?

3. Avoiding the Sound of One Hand Clapping

Zuckerberg has certainly studied the stumbles of Linden Labs and others. He has seen the hazard of a metaverse no one wants to occupy.

The failure to launch of Second Life, in a way where many still ask, “Second what?!?,” is due to the Network Effect. This effect was first observed when our world was mostly analog. I recall it being explained in the context of fax machine ownership. (Yes, I’m an Old):

A single fax machine is useless. A second fax machine has utility between the two owners. But with each incremental fax machine bought and used, their cumulative value grows.

This effect also dictates the survival of a given social network. And ultimately, the metaverse is a social network.

The jury is out if Zuckerberg’s gamble will pay off. But unlike Linden Labs, this gamble is extremely well-funded. And if it does …

That’s my last point, which was as true then as it is now:

4. Technological Change Is Not Additive

The subhead, “Technological change is not additive,” is from author and media theorist Neil Postman, and he elaborates, “[the change] is ecological.” It changes everything.


We’ve already seen how Facebook’s current platforms have changed our world. Its politics. Its boundaries. Arguably even its collective levels of happiness and anxiety.

So those four things are what has not changed in one-and-a-half decades. What has changed? A lot, actually.

Ownership, yes. But also bandwidth and access

Web 3.0 has been touted as the advent of ownership, an addition to the read and write features that define the Web 2.0 world in which we currently live.

It’s true.

With blockchain, there are immutable records of ownership, decentralized and out of the control of governments and power brokers. This means, unlike in Second Life, in a modern metaverse you can stake a claim on a space or a possession that cannot be “claim-jumped.” Introducing NFTs.

NFTs are built on the blockchain, and although their value volatility presages a burst bubble, ownership of them can never be disputed. Completely independent a physical, notarized deed, or some institution with a finger in the ownership pie saying it is so, the NFT you buy today will still be indisputably yours a year from now — even if its value falls to less than that of a mint condition Beanie Baby.

That’s a huge benefit of the modern metaverse.

Right now NFTs have been primarily used for art. File away this thought: Wherever artist travel, brands are sure to follow. But I’m getting ahead of myself. There are two other major changes with Web 3.0.

Let’s not underestimate the advent of 5G, and other new ways to move electrons. The speed of 5G makes it built for immediacy. When you and I pass a virtual note, the “now” I experience is as close to your “now” as physics can currently satisfy. That’s important in the metaverse, because, you’ll recall, time is the glue binding all of us to a shared metaverse experience.

The same wider pipes deliver a more detailed experience. On the urging of a colleague, I finally watched the film Ready Player One, and once I saw it I understood why. The metaverse of that story was vivid and inviting. And with haptic wearables, extremely visceral.

Which leads to access. Second Life, at least in its early incarnations, required downloading an app on a desktop or laptop computer. With Meta, all it will take is a headset. And Mr. Zuckerberg wants you to own one.

The Devices To Overshadow Our Cell Phones

“The next cell phone” is how this Economist piece described the AR and VR headsets that are being frantically manufactured by Google, Meta and others. The numbers projected there are breathtaking. This is different from the Linden Labs days, when there was no hardware push to match the software they developed.

And there are already eager device buyers. My old employer, Accenture, just announced they’re buying 60,000 Oculus VR devices. Will this and other investments be enough to achieve Network Effect velocity? Time will tell.

But what if it does? Here is the use case I mentioned in the headline.

Superbowl Sunday, 2025

Scarcity is built right into Superbowl Sunday, the intellectual property owned by one of the most powerful brands in the world: the National Football League. This scarcity accounts for the insanely high prices for tickets to those games. With the metaverse, the in-person prices would continue to be stratospheric, but there would be another way to attend, and another price structure associated with it.

Imagine a game where those in the stands can watch the game, but much improved, through AR glasses. Statistics could flash, and replays would be on demand with the utterance of a voice command.

In addition, those who pay enough can be there as well, but from anywhere else in the world, by wearing VR goggles. They’d have an even more virtual way to watch the same time-bound plays and replays.

But in this humble use case, the real metaverse magic happens during half time.

In a way, the half time show we saw this February was close to an AR experience. Like other recent years, there was a miracle taking place, in real time, on that vacated playing field.

While the two teams were in their respective locker rooms, a miracle of logistics, LED lighting, and smoke machines transformed the square yardage of competition into a world designed for entertainment.

There was a multi-floor set, made of scaffolding but dressed to look like something else, that featured a half dozen hip hop elders, including an upside-down 50 Cent. Amazing.

Another recent year featured Lady Gaga atop a crane, surrounded by intricately choreographed light-emitting drones. Again, amazing, made more so by the extremely high stakes of getting the show off the stage once the music ends.

This time-bound event (everything erected must be off the field before the second half can start!) is ready-made for AR / VR sorcery.

Enter Google Tilt and Dozens of Sculptors

What if, in 2025, the rigging that showcases the singers and dancers was far simpler, and the other world that is conjured is created in a metaverse? And what if we get to see that world be sculpted, one sweeping plain of light at a time?

Imagine half time has just started, and everyone in the stands sees an assembly taking place through their AR glasses. The set for the musicians and dancers is constructed over and around pipes and stage planks, by real artists on the field, using virtual light they have mastered.

We see those sculpting talents through something like Google Tilt. Remember when I said brands aren’t far behind when artists step in, to create, and enthrall us? Well naturally, these half time artists would be heavily sponsored.

“Google Tilt?” you ask. Instead of me describing it, allow me to show you this:

The half time set creation dazzles the audience watching in the stands, but also the additional paid attendees using VR.

As for the rest of us? Technology isn’t additive, you’ll recall. It changes everything. We’d still be watching on a television, so we wouldn’t be able to see the performance in 3D, like others. But we would see the same amazing set that adorns the singers and dancers.

As an added bonus, at the end of the show, AV and VR attendees would get a chance to win the unique and heavily branded work of these artists. As the stage is struck, in readiness for the second half of play, the sculptures comprising the stage set would be distributed to the audience, either by lottery or highest bidder, as NFTs.

If you win a sculpture, you’d get to “take home” an actual piece of the Super Bowl show, to show off and cherish. Instead of getting a tee-shirt shot from an air gun, you’d win a beautiful, one-of-a-kind art piece for all to see and admire.

The catch? It only exists in the metaverse.

The business power of a Pecha Kucha

I was originally attracted to Pecha Kucha because I’d read about it in WIRED, and it sounded fun. I’ve learned a lot since my first foray into it, a dozen years ago in Milwaukee. Here’s what I’ve discovered: It has become a varsity-level training technique to polish one of the four keys to succeeding in your career, today and into the future. Below I’ll list my five steps to preparing one, and I’ll share a video of an early draft of the Pecha Kucha I ultimately presented in Chicago’s last Pecha Kucha Night before the pandemic triggered shutdowns, in early March.

As you may have read from my previous post, Pecha Kucha is a highly constrained way to tell a story.

It’s been called, in the excellent business book Weekend Language, the lovechild of Powerpoint and Twitter, but may more accurately be called “public speaking meets speed-dating.” Each presenter has exactly six minutes and 40 seconds to tell their story. Pecha Kucha Nights, held in over 300 cities worldwide, typically pack ten-to-twelve speakers into the program. Folks new to the format tend to stumble out of their first event giddy with the muchness of it all.

Pecha Kucha Strength Training for Business

The reason putting together a Pecha Kucha (PK) is so useful for storytelling is the constraints it demands, and thus the need for thorough planning and rehearsal. Typically, when a novice at storytelling is asked to assemble and present some slides, they create way too many and meander through them. In the words of Weekend Language‘s authors, these newbies “bore the snot” out of their audiences.

At an Accenture Storytelling Club meeting (yes, my employer’s Chicago Digital Hub really has such a thing), the club members decided, after watching one of my PKs, that they’d take a shot at their own ersatz Pecha Kucha “night” to hone their presentation skills. So everyone who was willing to try one committed to crafting their own, and was added to the club meeting lineup.

The pressure was on.

The group asked me for suggestions on how to do their very best PK. As I listed the steps I recommended they take, reproduced below, notice how those steps also describe the process you’d follow for any professionally presented talk.

Or for that matter, any elevator pitch to your boss or client.

Five Steps to Storytelling Excellence

  1. Begin with the end in mind. Your audience won’t remember much from the very best presentations. So think hard about the key points you want you audience to retain, and especially: The key feelings you wish to impart. “Feelings” you say? In business? Yes. Do you want to inspire your audience? Persuade them? Prepare them for something on the horizon? You’ll only effectively deliver your key points if they are transmitted on a “signal” of human emotion.
  2. Consider the amount of detail that’s needed. With a PK, you only have 20 slides, and 20 seconds per slide. But what if you were given 20 minutes? Or 50 minutes, like this talk I co-presented with a client colleague in Las Vegas two years ago? You cannot over-pack the presentation or your audience will retain little of it, even if they’re taking furious notes. Less common is the situation where you have too little information to convey given the time necessary. In a case like this, you may want to consider adding an interactive quiz (I’m a personal fan of Kahoot for cell phone enabled quizzes) or some other way to use that extra time to emphasize one or more of your points — while keeping your audience smiling and nodding in agreement.
  3. Focus on the words over your visuals. Have you noticed how tightly scripted your favorite TED Talks are? How there isn’t a wasted word? That’s not an accident. If you enjoy listening to podcasts, I strongly recommend this Slate Money episode, where Weapons of Math Destruction author Cathy O’Neil discusses the insane amount of work she and her director went through to polish her TED Talk to perfection.
  4. Practice in front of volunteer audiences. Here I can imagine an objection from you, along the lines of “But my talk is too technical. My friends and family would never understand it.” I’ve got news for you. If you don’t write your presentation with enough breadcrumbs to help those not familiar with certain jargon or concepts, you’re not done yet. Without “talking down” to your audience, you should define — or ideally, eliminate — all jargon. I’ve presented to my share of CEOs, usually in one-on-one or small settings, and every one of them has made it clear that they expect a simple, crisp story. If you hear, “I didn’t understand XYZ,” find a way to make XYZ something they can grasp. Make it understandable to anyone. Which leads to the last step …
  5. Iterate. Every time you present to a new audience, you’ll see other cues to what you could improve. Or you’ll receive valuable notes. I certainly did, in the presentation draft shown below. In fact, a far earlier version of this was presented in front of two dear friends, and afterwards they had this tip: “You talk about you and your wife at the time of this story, but we never see you two. Include a photo, early on, to help us better identify with you both.” That was outstanding advice I could have never gotten if I rushed my presentation to the stage!

Embedded below is the version just before it was ready for PK Night. I presented the content you see in embedded video below (live — this recording was made as a rehearsal mechanism). It was presented to an audience of one. She really understands clear communication. She’s co-founder of a Chicago puppetry production company. Her note: Early on, give the audience permission not to understand some of the one-panel cartoons that are shown. Great advice when the audience is both listening and reading, in 20-second bursts! You can see the final version, presented at Martyr’s in early March of this year, here.

But here’s the near-final draft:

The key lesson for business-minded speakers? If you want a story to be easy to understand, put in the work. And consider a Pecha Kucha!

Cross-train your brain to do four things really well

A condensed version of this post originally appeared in the Accenture Careers blog.

Do you want to excel in your career, today and in our uncertain future? Below are the four not-so-simple areas of focus.

But first a cliché warning: Smarter people than I have tread this terrain and stepped in a few. I’m thinking specifically about this from David Foster Wallace, from his famous commencement speech This is Water, where he began by talking about how higher learning should be about “teaching you how to think” …

If you’re like me as a student, you’ve never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted … The fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think … [but this] cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we’re supposed to get in a place like this isn’t really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about.

Not that long ago you could graduate with many types of degrees, having absorbed facts and their interrelation, and expect to build a nice career. Naturally you would continue learning after graduation, but in that pre-digital era, when access to knowledge was constrained, learning was primarily absorbing new facts. Here I’m imagining my dad’s career …

Adopting Learning Skills For Today’s Work Environment

My late father was co-founder of a small-town accounting firm. As a CPA, he and his partners would turn to an imposing set of heavy, beige tax law books that filled to bursting the bookshelves his firm had built for them. To me, as a child, they reached so wide and high they appeared to hold the whole business up.

I wasn’t that far off. In that analog world, the folks closest to the facts got the job done. And got the raises. And the promotions.

What’s changed? For one, digitization – a democratization of knowledge. With sites like Google, Wikipedia, plus more specialized sites like The Markup, the world of information is in all of our pockets. What else has changed is complexity, and mass disruption. Our world is many factors more complex than my father’s, or yours.

It’s also clear that the pace of change will continue to accelerate.

How to cope? Here’s a comprehensive list. It’s the “Four Cs.” I discovered them in Yaval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (originally sourced from this NEA white paper). They are 1.) Critical Thinking, 2.) Creativity, 3.) Collaboration and 4.) Communication.

1. Critical Thinking

Consider Accenture’s Problem-Solution Mapping (PSM). It’s a hybrid of several mental models, including the thinking processes of Eliyahu Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints. Here’s a video introduction:

It’s no accident that the first part of PSM is about stepping back and looking objectively at what we want to accomplish and why. It’s also about looking deeply into the problems identified to find root causes. Only once this is done do we construct hypotheses to test in pursuit of solutions.

Or consider the advice of Charlie Munger, someone best known as the behind-the-scenes member, with Warren Buffett, of the duad that built Berkshire Hathaway. In a speech Munger put it this way:

You can’t really know anything if you just remember isolated facts and try and bang ’em back. If the facts don’t hang together on a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form.

You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience — both vicarious and direct — on this latticework of models.

Or finally, consider the words of my friend from a conversation I had with him this weekend. He’s a leader in a multi-billion-dollar e-retailer. He told me, “I’m advising my daughter to learn Python as a way to put her data science degree to work. In fact, we’re going to learn it together. But I’m also stressing the importance of learning how to define the right problems to solve, and finding a framework for their solution.” She’s got a smart father.

2. Creativity

Once you’ve identified the best problems to solve, it often takes creativity to solve them. In their new book Pivot to the Future, Accenture colleagues Larry Downes, Omar Abbosh, and Paul Nunes remind us that automation will place greater intellectual demands on all of us (emphasis below is mine):

We are not among those who think AI [artificial intelligence] will displace knowledge workers to a significant extent. We do, however, believe they will substantially alter the nature of work and in a positive way. Today, too many jobs are boring and repetitive leaving workers unmotivated or Worse. AI Technologies offer an opportunity to redesign work away from the mundane and toward tasks that require human reasoning, empathy, and creativity.

I agree with their belief that AI is not to be feared. We need to look at it as another tool for getting work done, and try not to listen to what scholars call “moral panic” over new technology. What it means is we need to develop the qualities that machines will be less effective at “learning.” Human creativity is at the top of my list.

3. Collaboration

In her TED Talk and best-selling book, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, game developer Jane McGonigal makes a case for how multi-player video games develop crucial learning skills.

Arguably, the highest on her list is collaboration. She reminds us how these games are rehearsals for the modern work world, where delegating, co-creating and supporting each other are crucial keys to team success.

At Accenture, collaboration is priced into every project. What’s more, our commitment to inclusion and diversity helps ensure a working environment of psychological safety – something that Google’s research has found to be one of the keys to a winning team.

4. Communication

Of the four, this may be the easiest to practice – but the hardest to get right! In their excellent book on business communication, Weekend Language, authors Andy Craig and Dave Yewma describe what happens to our storytelling abilities when the weekend is over and we’re back at the office:

We’re full of feature lists and ten-point plans, ‘high level’ terms and nonsense. As if that wasn’t bad enough, we beat the snot out of our audiences with 118-slide PowerPoint presentations chock-full of text.

Audience members typically don’t remember anything.

Their book trains readers to tell stories instead, and to tell them effectively to achieve business goals. If you’ve read their book, you may have noticed some of their recommendations here. I’ve peppered this with anecdotes, metaphors, and other ways to (hopeful) bring my content to life for you.

How important is storytelling to Accenture careers? Consider this:

I work out of the Digital Hub in Chicago’s Accenture offices. And every month our Storytelling Club meets to isolate and strengthen these communication “muscles” in front of a live audience. It’s an invaluable resource.

Focus Your Thinking On the Four Cs

Now that you’ve learned “what to learn,” know that Accenture can help you. Consider joining us, learning from and working with some of the industry’s best and brightest. Find your fit with Accenture.

Tips for career-building reading in 2018

This blog post originally appeared in an Accenture Careers blog.

Building your career in 2018? Or perhaps you’re looking to make a change in your current situation. Either way, you may be surprised to learn how educational and inspirational your reading list can be.

Here’s a recommended reading list to get you started. The list is curated by me and a few of my friends and colleagues.

Let’s get started

To begin, I’ve put together tips on how to get the most value from your reading time. Let’s call it a Reading List User’s Guide.

  1. Choose books as wisely as you choose friends. Author and entrepreneur Jim Rohn once wrote, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” The same can be said for the authors you welcome onto your bookshelf or into your Kindle. In many ways, I consider authors I respect actual friends. For instance, early in my career, when I had my own direct-response consultancy, I would silently thank Peter Senge for what he had taught me. I would walk into a potential client’s business for the first time and apply the knowledge I gleaned from reading his book The Fifth Discipline, which focuses on how organizations “learn to learn.” I would look around at office dynamics and know with surprising accuracy just how much of a “learning organization” I was observing. No company is perfect, but Senge had trained me to see the extent of each organization’s “learning disabilities”—and by extension, whether they would be good customers for what I was selling. Now, that’s a valuable friend!
  2. Ask if popular books have truly earned their status. Good business books, like good speeches, should provide a strong mix of inspiration and education. Ask friends who have read a particular book what specifically they learned, or how they were moved. Listen closely to their answers. Much of the business world is ruled by groupthink, “FOMO” (fear of missing out) and trying to impress. Those impulses aren’t good enough reasons to read a book, even if it’s the one “everyone is reading.” It’s a surprisingly rare business book that deserves its popularity. I’m thinking of books like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which rode best-seller lists for literally years, and remains one of the best-selling non-fiction books of all time.Don’t be put off if your friends talk more to inspiration than education. The same year I first read (and learned a ton from) “7 Habits,” I was also deeply inspired by a different book, called The One-to-One Future. It was in the very early days of CRM (customer relationship management). And boy, did it inspire! It literally caused me to change my career path, a decision that is one of the best of my life. Last year, I derived similar inspiration from another book, The Business Blockchain. I haven’t changed my career yet, but you never know! (And thanks to Accenture’s deep involvement in blockchain, a lateral move within our organization isn’t out of the question for me.)
  3. Vary your reading diet widely. Non-fiction books don’t have to be formally about business to help you with your career. When I read Dr. Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, I realized that I wasn’t communicating clearly with roughly half the professional workforce (i.e., women!). By an embarrassing coincidence—and as though the world had a painful lesson to teach me—just as I was about to start the book, I nearly lost a client because she gave her instructions in something Tannen calls “rapport speak,” while I was hearing her through the filter of “report speak.” I screwed up an assignment and only realized how it happened after reading and internalizing the book. How’s that for valuable career advice!
  4. Read the way you learn. Educational research teaches us that humans have preferred ways of learning. You may not take to the written word. Today, that shouldn’t hinder you. Don’t pay attention to those who stigmatize “hearing” a book instead of reading it. If audiobooks work for your style and your schedule, go for it. I’m currently “reading” a book in three different formats at once. I have a hardback copy of Ron Chernow’s dense Alexander Hamilton for the tactile pleasure of its pages, and its many illustrations, paintings and drawings. I also have an e-book copy to read when I’m traveling, since the hardcover takes up a lot of luggage space. And finally, I have an audible copy, for when I’m working out or taking long walks. I did something similar, and for similar reasons, when reading the outstanding Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel Prize in Economics winner Daniel Kahnemann. Remember what I said about authors being like friends? Just like real friends, sometimes, once you deem them worthy, you invest the time and money needed to spend time with them. Good books, like good friends, are worth it.
  5. Use books to focus your thinking. To paraphrase the late David Foster Wallace in his famous “This Is Water” college commencement address (Google it; you’ll thank me), the worst cliché of such speeches is, “An education isn’t about filling us with knowledge but about teaching us how to think.” It’s easy to find that insulting. It’s not. He points out that “how to think” is not so much about the capacity to think, but the choice of what to think about (getting us back to point 1, above). Books that help us build our careers direct our thinking in important directions. This is crucial, because there is a lot of other stuff that really doesn’t matter. They’re distractions preventing us from doing great things.

More Reading Recommendations

So, in crowdsourcing my network, I’ve compiled a list of reading material that will both educate and inspire. Mine are sprinkled throughout the five points above. Happy reading.