On what it means to “go back” intelligently, in a world that’s constantly in flux
If you are a friend of Eastwick, I am sure you have heard the news by now. I have returned to the fold to start something new – an independent strategy consulting firm in the “social enterprise category.” It’s a big week for me, in several ways, because today’s news is about happy returns, and the returns come in several different varieties.
First, there’s the return to the entrepreneurial life. I left Eastwick in the summer of 2006 to launch a social technology consultancy (The Conversation Group) – one of the first of its kind – and the experience was unlike any other, both good and bad. As the owner of a firm, you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor – the experience, the perspective, along with the battle scars – in a very different way. And once you get a taste for this kind of freedom, it’s hard to go back. After ending that first business, I tried a couple of things – working as a CMO, then helping to launch a new digital/social-technology practice at a Big Four consulting firm – and the experience and the learning was wonderful. But for me, the biggest learning was that I needed to go back to my entrepreneurial roots and lay down the foundations for a new kind of consulting group once again.
Second, there’s the more profound “return” that we aim to explore in the new business. Over the past six years, I found myself more and more interested in an emerging trend that now appears ready to go mainstream: the return to the physical world. It began as when I was first getting ready to exit Eastwick, when Seagate asked us to develop an event strategy for its first big splash at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). We partnered with Robert Scoble to produce a high-profile blogger lounge that nicely illustrated the value of a live experience. At The Conversation Group, I got further exposure to this thinking with similar experiments at Web 2.0 and SxSW. I caught the event bug, in a serious way, which is not too surprising given the fact I had spent close to five years in a previous life as a theater producer. But for me, events are more than just events. They are the places where real relationships are made and value – as the big-time consultants like to say – is created. Over the past three years, in my work for a non-profit called Latinos in Social Media (LATISM) and pro-bono work for the White House, I got to see this principle in practice and more and more I began to see that the virtual world and the physical world are no longer separate. In a broad range of contexts – in enterprise collaboration, in public affairs advocacy, in the large and distressed world we call retail (restaurants, hotels, stores, automobile dealerships) – the opportunity is to redefine what we mean when we use the world “social.” It’s not just about the virtual. It’s about the intelligent return to the physical world, a world aided, not led, by technology. It’s a future trend – we’re betting big on it – because it represents the balance the world seems to be seeking.
Then, of course, there’s the return to the world of Eastwick. When (Eastwick co-founder and CEO) Barbara Bates and I made the rounds with reporters last week, our longtime friend and communications-industry watcher Sam Whitmore asked, “tell me more about Giovanni’s return to Capistrano.” Sam always has a way of framing things. I had been feeling more like the prodigal son, and the metaphor of the bird finding his way back home … it was far more appealing. And closer to the truth. If you are going to go back — and return intelligently – you might want to consider returning home. And although I am “next door” — and with a bit more independence – I am in fact back home, and I’m on a mission. And just in time for the holidays.