When you read the “about me” section of Andrew Nachison’s personal website, you get a brief glimpse into an incredibly eclectic person. In his own words, he’s a “a thinker, explorer, creator, futurist, catalyst, convener, producer, educator, geek, photographer, musician, artist, husband and dad.” In short, he’s a man of many interests.
He’s played clarinet on stage at Carnegie Hall, studied wildlife, development and environmental policy in Kenya, managed Lawrence.com, among the world's first digital newspapers -- a job that earned him a reputation as a pundit in the emerging digital news sphere -- and reported for a bevy of highly influential newspapers and magazines.
Right now, Nachison is the CEO of We Media, a digital media company and creative agency, as well as iFOCOS — The Institute for the Connected Society — both of which look to help companies make better use of the many, many connected devices in improved and new ways.
A Man of Many Interests
Nachison took a moment to talk to CMSWire about his career, his work, his many interests and how his work and his play interact to make a life.
Sobel: Tell me a bit about your background and what brought you to the concept and launch of WeMedia.
Nachison: In the 1990s I was a journalist and also a geek. I was into computers, technology and the Internet before I became a journalist and before there was a World Wide Web. I remember the first time someone showed me Mosaic, the early web browser. I knew, instinctively and immediately, like I had been struck by lightning, that the world was about to change. So I gravitated to the web and to web publishing. I talked my way into a job creating and running the web sites of a pioneering small newspaper in Lawrence, Kansas. It wasn't a hard sell. Most of the journalists around me weren't interested. That meant that within a few months I was considered an online journalism expert. It didn't take much to be an expert then -- and I perpetuated the myth into a career as a digital media strategist and thinker. Eventually, I was recruited to lead research and strategy programs about the internet and the future of news for The Media Center, a news industry funded think tank at the American Press Institute.
Around 2000, the news industry was concerned, a little, about audiences moving to the web, and a little more about classified ads moving online to non-newspaper web sites like Monster.com and Craigslist. But the web was still a small piece of what major newspaper and broadcasting companies saw as their grander destiny -- a joining of print and television businesses and journalism. They called this media convergence.
And this led to a research project called We Media, commissioned in 2003 with my colleague Dale Peskin, that anticipated massive disruption to the news business, and really to the entire world, as the processes of producing, sharing and participating in journalism shifted from those controlled by "the" media to new, collaborative processes of "we" media. From that we launched an independent research group called the Institute for the Connected Society, and hosted a series of We Media conferences around the world. We Media became a network and gathering place for media, tech and civic innovators spanning the fields for journalism, marketing, causes and digital creatives. That led to what we do now: innovation consulting, digital strategy and design projects and productions with a variety of media companies and NGOs.
Sobel: When we did an event together back in 2008 you talked about the shifting landscape and relationships between government and media, traditional and digital. How have things changed in six years?
Nachison: A lot has changed. On the one hand, governments at all levels have embraced, dabbled or at least know about the movement to provide greater access to public data. Among other things, this enables independent developers to create new services that enrich civic life and encourage more responsive and transparent governments. That's now a vibrant and still emerging field of civic innovation. On the other hand, we had 9/11, the war on terrorism, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Wikileaks, Stuxnet and the Edward Snowden revelations about the NSA spying on everyone. We wound up in a new era of government secrecy, surveillance and cyberwarfare. Governments around the world censor the Internet and turn it on or off at will. We just saw Turkey shut down Twitter. Social media fueled uprisings in Iran, the Arab Spring, massive anti government protests in Ukraine that led, among other things, to the Russian takeover of Crimea - and also a brutal civil war in Syria. If we're heading for Utopia, we've got a long way to go to get there and a lot of people are dying along the way.
Sobel: I see on the We Media website that you say you’re “a global agency, studio and idea incubator for the digital age. We tell stories and solve problems.” That's quite a mouthful. Can you elaborate?
Nachison: If that's a mouthful, I'll try to be even briefer. We're consultants. We help companies create new products, services and processes and rethink old ones.
Sobel: Our readers are focused on intelligent information management, digital customer experience management and the emergence of social business tools and practices. Any thoughts or suggestions?
Nachison: Here's a quick one: empowerment. Whether you're designing a tool for business, a workspace, an event or a consumer digital experience, the "users" are real people who use technology all the time. It's in our pockets. It's just there. We expect things to work, to be intuitive and to provide a sense of freedom and power. We're easily distracted, short on time and we have little patience for awkward, dull, confusing or broken things.
Sobel: Can you talk about your interest in photography, music, painting and, of course, your family? Do you see any similarities here...that is your "day" versus your “night?"
Nachison: Great question! I'm going to have rewrite the bio, because the day/night division is wrong. It was a mildly clever way of distinguishing between work and not work, a way of listing lots of things that interest and excite me. I also love to be outdoors. But that line between professional and personal is fuzzy. It has less and less to do with days, nights or weekends. It's true that most of my work happens during the day, when my kids are at school and my wife is at work.
My personal interests are with me all the time. I listen to music, especially when I write. I'm visual and love to create, see and include beautiful photos in my work, and I try to think like an artist when I work. I'm always looking for inspiration, and for meaning and personal satisfaction in my work. I can't remove my personal interests, my values or my heart from my work, and I don't ask that of clients or people who work with me.