Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

Inception, Extraction and the Socialization of Business

Every now and then, I draw comparisons between the things that inspire me offline in order to help spark creativity and evolution in all that I do online. Inception served as a catalyst for rethinking social media and how we use it to socialize not just our marketing efforts, but our business overall. Weeks later, ideas germinated and here I am today, sharing my thoughts and observations with you. Indeed, Inception is the genesis for creativity and innovation.

If you have yet to see the movie, don’t worry, I won’t include any spoilers here. I will say that it is worth your time. For those who have experienced Chris Nolan’s masterpiece, perhaps you will share this vision and time with me to explore ways in which we can bend the realities we know to construct new paradigms for social business.

In the film, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Dom Cobb, sets the stage for the movie and subsequent analysis through poignant monologue that continues to resonate with me…

What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm?

An idea. Resilient… highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate.

The premise of the movie begins with extraction, but the moral of the story is underscored by inception.

If you’ve read Seth Godin’s best-selling book IdeaVirus, the power of ideas may already sound familiar.

Godin shows, the now-familiar idea of viral marketing is one very specific form of ideavirus marketing. Most businesses will not be able to engage in true viral marketing, but all can use the ideavirus approach

While my mind was already spinning with ideas and questions regarding the applications of extraction and inception in social media, it wasn’t until I read a review of the movie by Devin Faraci of that my thoughts crystallized into ideas. Faraci concludes that in addition to many things, the movie is Nolan’s homage to the catharsis of art and bringing ideas to life. As Faraci observed…

The film is a metaphor for the way that Nolan as a director works, and what he’s ultimately saying is that the catharsis found in a dream is as real as the catharsis found in a movie is as real as the catharsis found in life. Inception is about making movies, and cinema is the shared dream that truly interests the director.

Faraci draws parallels between the cast of Inception, Cobb’s team, and how each role represents key players in the movie making process.

Cobb is the director. Arthur, who does the research, is the producer. Ariadne, the architect, is the screenwriter. Eames is the actor. Yusuf is the technical expert. Saito is the studio chief. Fischer is the audience.

Such is the framework necessary to lead the socialization of business. While today social media is led by a champion or team of evangelists that “get it,” its path remains a bottom-up process of forcing transformation through evangelism and experimentation. Eventually social media will lose momentum before its promise can be fully realized however. A team consisting of a visionary leader supported by capable specialists across the fabric of the organization is imperative to fully realize the opportunities and responsibilities that unfold with social immersion.

The Production of Social Media Requires a Dedicated Cast

Penrose Stairs illustrate the impossible objects that can be created in lucid dream worlds

Like the motion picture industry, we can also adapt the Inception team to the world of social engagement. As such, a successful social media team could (should) consist of the following cast members:

Mr. Saito, the Client Executive or management team responsible for the brand in large. This person or team is also required to not only extract ideas to adapt products, processes and services, but also introduce the new ideas that empower consumers to excel.

Cobb, The Extractor: The digital brand or marketing manager leading teams or individuals into each social dive

Ariadne, the Architect: Designers build and define the online experience as well as the bridges (and Penrose stairs) that connect the dots.

Arthur, the Point Man: Data and research analysts who gather information and intelligence and present it to the various teams for incorporation into strategies and supporting tactics.

Yusuf, the Chemist: Social technicians and alchemists who bring architecture to life through apps, landing pages, interactive media platforms, custom tabs and the like.

Eames, the Forger: Brand representatives who serve as the personalities and voices on the front lines in communities

Subconscious Projections: Symbolic of the influencers who serve online communities as overseers and moderators. Their role is to ensure your actions stay on a path that is beneficiary and not disruptive to each community.

Miles, Cobb’s mentor: The ethics that serve as the inspiration for meaningful social media programs and engagement

Fischer, the Mark: The audiences and people with whom brands hope to connect and convince.

In the movie, all of the other cast members in each dream are essentially projections of our own subconscious. Their actions and words are extensions of our interpretations and perceptions and are only as relevant as our pre-existing opinions, thoughts, and notions. It’s a metaphor for operating within a comfort zone, hearing and seeing only what we choose rather than opening our minds to the collaboration.

Inception and Extraction

While the movie is entitled inception, it begins with the idea of extraction – the ability to enter the dreams of others in order to “steal” secrets hidden away deep within our subconscious. But the film’s premise and its significance is rooted in something much more meaningful, the ability to seed ideas that come to life when we awake – inception versus extraction.

As discussed in Engage and also Charlene Li’s new book Open Leadership, it is this listening, really listening, that opens leadership to change and ultimately true collaboration and co-creation. It is through this unique understanding of the cultures, landscapes and the themes that fuel connections and communication. This incredible insight inspires relevant engagement and supporting constructs that galvanizes and empowers customers and peers to become stakeholders in all you do.

The “extraction” is the research, listening, and sifting for insight. It’s not enough to monitor conversations through keyword searches. It’s not enough to measure “automated” and mostly inaccurate sentiment. It’s not enough to track activity in terms of mentions, followers, likes, and comments. There’s a difference between listening and hearing and to extract the information and intelligence necessary to inspire your ideas requires you to hear what it is that moves individuals and communities.  Extraction is the guiding light to create more meaningful engagement strategies based on the recently introduced concept of relevance, resonance, and significance (RRS), social media’s critical path. And, it’s through extraction where we uncover opportunities for inception.

Important ideas are transformative, stimulating, and motivating. They change our outlook and perspectives and send us on new paths. It’s our responsibility to not only react with relevant engagement, participation, and programming based on extractions, but also lead communities through influence and the inception of impassioned, inspirational, and constructive ideas.

As Godin preaches, “Ideas that spread, win.”

Or as Cobb observes, “The seeds we plant…may change everything.”

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Facebook
Please consider reading, Engage!: It will help you find answers to your questions…

156 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Inception, Extraction and the Socialization of Business”

  1. Eric Adechi says:

    Very interesting parallel that you manage to draw. Are you suggesting that in order for a brand to relevant, resonate and offer significance to an audience, they have to focus on extraction? If so, since the listening tools are not sufficient to tap into the audience's/customer's subconscious, what is? Further, introducing such a process requires putting in place processes/teams that effectively analyze the “secrets” present in the audience's mind. How can organizations prepare, train the latter to do so?

  2. JGibbard says:

    Brian, I love this post for several reasons. One) I, like you, enjoy taking things that inspire offline and translating them into relevant online content. Two I, like you, have been thinking about Inception since I saw it. Glad to see you refashion it for this purpose.

    You had me during the whole ideavirus/Seth Godin part of the post and also the cast members portion but I'll be honest after that you lost me. Can you elaborate or explain a few things in greater depth? The following portion confuses me:

    “The extraction is the research and listening. It’s not enough to monitor conversations through keyword searches. It’s not enough to measure “automated” and mostly inaccurate sentiment. It’s not enough to track activity in terms of mentions, followers, likes, and comments.”

    All of the things you mention sound like research and listening. Particularly where you state:

    “Extraction is the guiding light to relevance, resonance, and significance (RRS), social media’s critical path. And, it’s through extraction where we uncover opportunities for inception.”

    “Extraction is the guiding light…” sounds great and profound but I don't get what you mean; there are some dots that need connecting. What do you mean by extraction? Isn't extraction just using these ways of listening and research to pull out meaning and ideas?

    • briansolis says:


      I tried to add a bit more context there…thank you.

      Really, there's a difference between listening/monitoring and hearing. Many programs that I've reviewed over the years miss the hearing part of the process….meaning teams are capturing mentions, references, and also scouring for customer problems that require reaction/response. Some are also looking at themes…but most are still creating social programs from the top down, based on creative ideas and then introducing them into their communities through syndication, engagement, and marketing support. Perhaps we could benefit from a more empathetic process where we design meaningful programs based on the ideas we source from various communities based on challenges, hope, options, frustration, suggestions, et al.

    • Is the dichotomy you're trying to draw as the one between data and information?

  3. Spot on, as usual.

    What you're defining here is the optimally-unsiloed social media presence. Many people within an organization need to play a well-defined, particularly-chosen role in the social presence in order to make it effective on all fronts.

    • briansolis says:

      One can dream right? 😉

      I talk about the process for uniting several fronts (or shall I say the politics of redefining culture and creating one team) in Engage. It's not an easy process…in many ways it takes time and dedication. In some cases I've worked on, it has taken 1-2 years to create such an approach.

    • Right. You can't pull it out of a hat, just as you can't “create” corporate culture. They are both the products of consistent action, evolving from patterns.

      By the way, I just got passes to #Optsum, and I'm looking forward to seeing you there!

  4. Kyle Lacy says:

    That movie definitely made me think but this makes me stop and contemplate. 🙂 “Important ideas are transformative, stimulating, and motivating. They change our outlook and perspectives and send us on new paths.”

    I love everything about this statement.

  5. David Lelong says:

    Excellent commentary on the movie and it's implications for social media. The parallels between the players is spot on.

  6. Plant the seeds. Nurture until harvest. Care for the soil throughout. Good stuff from inception until completion.

  7. Granticus says:

    Excellent article! As for Faraci's theories, Nolan has confirmed in interviews that Inception represents the creation of a film. The director/Cobb utilizes a team of artists to enter the minds of the audience and insert an idea. Quite fascinating.

  8. Yatman Lai says:

    What you have highlighted here is the power of social marketing to influence behaviors at such a subconscious level that we do not even know the idea was planted. It reminded me of all the subliminal messages in advertising.

  9. i haven't seen the movie yet and i guess reading this post made me want to see it. fortunately it is still showing in our cinemas. i should watch it first before i can give a comment with substance in here.

  10. Brent MacKinnon says:

    I am so pleased to have taken time to read this and related posts. I saw the movie, liked it but didn't connect it to my work with social media – until I read your blog. The explanation of listening in respect to extraction and inception was especially helpful for me. I didn't have a clear sense of what to do with the listening or the why of the listening. Now I have a way to talk about listening in context of the larger drama being played out.

  11. Mckra1g says:

    What I find compelling is the symbiotic relationship between the extraction and the inception.

    Sometimes words fail me and all I can see is a physical representation within my mind's eye. The relationship is analogous to a liquid clutch in a manual transmission. There is an amorphous friction point where one drives the other forward. Defining that point? IMO, it's an art – an instinct driven, on a certain level, by data.

    Social media is an organic physical manifestation of global communications and societal behaviors. It is the digital trace of our aggregate human mores/habits. It is eternally fascinating to me.

    Great deconstruction. I enjoyed this post very much. Best, M.

  12. matthixson says:

    I loved this movie and it is very interesting how you have related this to social media. I thought of this in the other aspect. Yes you have your team but if you look at the network you are trying to operate within you have to understand the players there. It would be really powerful if as a business I knew the precise point that I needed to perform inception into the network to achieve my goal. I don't think that RRS truly tells you that but there are ways that do. This is the next generation of social understanding that businesses need to efficiently and effectively use social media.

  13. Seth G. says:

    Brian, as always, an amazing insightful piece. Inception was an amazing movie that still has me thinking about it's implications to our daily lives. I like how you used the messages in the movie to relate to the similarities of inception and extraction in Social Media and Social Marketing.

  14. sanchezjb says:

    Brian, I saw “Inception” today (Finally!), thought the movie was excellent (would even go so far as to state that it will be a classic), and and very much like your post. However, there's an important point the movie emphasizes that's not addressed in your post: the need for emotion to execute & deliver on an idea after that idea has been planted.

    Per the question asked in the movie: “How do you translate a business strategy into an emotion?” As soon as I heard this line in the movie, I thought, “Wow, they nailed it!” This is a key question for business, government, and nonprofit organizations to ask and goes to the heart of achieving an organization's strategic goals.

  15. Great Analysis Brian! I also love to make comparisons between movies and real life, and I always try to apply the lessons learned. In this case, this movie made me think about the similarities between idea inception and marketing, isn't the inception concept of the movie similar to what marketing is in real life?

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