Bonfire Builders: Jake McKee

I had a thought a couple of weeks ago about the Bonfires & Fireworks analogy…

If, as I believe, it’s going to be through cross-disciplinary effort that we build successful, conversational communications between people and companies, we should get all sorts of different perspectives from across the board on the principle of bonfire building.

So, to that end, I decided to start asking a few folk whose opinion and work I think highly of about the principle, and their perspective on it.

First up, I’m delighted to say we’ve got Jake McKee, of Ant’s Eye View, Community Guy and Lego fame…



Let’s start with something social… tell us about yourself…

I’m Jake McKee, co-founder and Chief Ant Wrangler at Ant’s Eye View (  I’ve spent my entire career on and around the Web trying to help businesses use new tech, people, and processes to improve the way that customers interact with the company.

At AEV, our focus is the same: helping clients improve customer experience and drive customer engagement by building strategies that tap into those new technologies, as well as age old improvements in people and process to truly improve the bottom line.
Outside of work, I’m an amateur photography, infrequent mountain biker, and a proud dad of an insane smart and funny 3 year old.

How did you get started in bonfire building?
I actually went to college for traditional 3D product design.  Even in high school I was fascinated by the idea that people got paid to think about how people used things and to design products accordingly.  I graduated about the time the Web started taking off and brought that product design thinking to Web development.

When I joined the LEGO Company in 2000, I lucked into working for a boss who encouraged me to own the relationship between LEGO and the adult LEGO enthusiasts.  That led to a full-time gig at LEGO doing community work, helping to form the community development team, speaking about community work, and blogging at



How do you persuade others of the need to build social bonfires alongside setting off advertising fireworks?
The answer to this question is a bit different if you’re talking about being an employee of a company working inside the enterprise towards change versus working as a consultant helping those folks see change through to completion.

Looking at the work that needs to be done inside the organization (since that’s where the buck stops), I’ve always talked about the strategy of “Success by 1000 paper cuts”.  Start with the smallest element you can effectively do with minimal budget, little managerial approval, and minor legal team approval.

Nothing breeds acceptance like success.  Even tiny successes excite people to see more.  Succeed, expand your efforts a little, succeed again, rinse and repeat. Before you know it, you’ll be launching huge programs but with far more support than if you tried to launch a big program straight away.

Where do you see the balance between the bonfires & fireworks at this point in time?
Well, there’s probably not much of a “balance” at this point!  I think largely we’re still seeing a vast majority of the social efforts being funnelled through the traditional marketing/advertising lens.  With a sadly rare exception, most business people are struggling to get past their own training – we’re all programmed to believe that protectionism is a huge business value.

That mindset was passed along in school, and backed up by nearly every business dealing we’ve had in our careers.  Getting past that mental training is going to some time and some serious effort, but it will happen.  With an entire generation being raised to expect a direct connect relationship with the companies they do business with, it’s seriously only a matter of time.
That said, I don’t think we’ll ever get away from seeing fireworks.  In fact, I hope we don’t.  Fireworks can be a lot of fun, and can do lots of great things… IF they are a component of a larger, social-infused strategy.

Finally, what do you foresee in the future for the bonfires and fireworks?
It’s not terribly exciting, but I think we’re going to continue to see the same progression we’ve been on for the last few years, just with an increasingly accelerated pace. 

Companies and consultants alike are certainly still struggling to get to a more social-minded place, but the pace at which things are moving is picking up speed. 

Success is leading to success, and we’ll be seeing a lot smarter, bigger, more successful campaigns over time…

…success by 1000 paper cuts.

Thanks Jake 🙂