Youth Advice Slinger With A Story to Tell: Josh Shipp

hey-joshJune 8, 2009 One week ago today I watched Josh Shipp, a guy who self-defined as a high school class clown with hair that “looks like a chia pet” open the Ypulse Youth Marketing “Mashup” as keynote speaker.

Josh Shipp is the kind of guy who charismatically creates a following like the Piped Piper, and ends up senior class president on a lark (he used the slogan “Shipp Happens”) …

But as one who was ALSO Senior Class President (albeit, on purpose) irreverent guys like Josh could win an election on “cocky but captivating” personal power coming off as having ‘success without intention.’ (like my own dear bro, who I tease has a ‘golden horseshoe up his tail’) But we all know better. At first glance, Josh and I ‘appear’ to be polar opposites…

As a haole (foreign) teen in Hawaii, my high school theme was about ‘unity’ blending multiple ethnic groups into a Hawaiian melting pot of ‘ohana’ (family)…Josh would’ve most likely smashed my goody-two-shoes ‘okole’ (backside) with sardonic wit if we’d shared the same stage…But in adulthood?


Despite the generations between us, there’s really not much of a gap at all…

We have different STYLES and tonality to be sure, but we share the commonality of authenticity, irreverence, and ‘telling it like it is’…

In fact, we’re even ‘Facebook friends’ which as many of you know, means we somehow ended up in the same sphere of mutuality, but don’t know each other on any personal level of intimacy…(tho here’s Josh Shipp’s Twitter feed to ‘follow’)

I disclose this because:

a.) I don’t want you to disregard my admiration for the gent as a ‘puff piece’ because his reputation as a digital youth guru is hard-earned, self-made and unequivocally genuine…

b.) I really like what he had to say…and:

c.) I want to be fully transparent ensuring there’s no nepotism;  we’ve never even met nor conversed, but in some twisted social media ‘separated at birth’ story, there’s substantial crossover and familiarity in play…

While Ypulse marketers salivated over his advice of “how to speak a teen’s language” (pdf here) to learn the delicate balance of how to entertain, inspire and empower (“kids don’t care about your brand, they care about your story!”) …

shhhhhI kept thinking ‘Shut up, Josh, don’t give them the ammo to ‘target’ kids…

….While snickering at the mere thought of a bunch of ‘suits’ attempting to translate his tips into meaningful messaging much less have it sound remotely “authentic. “ (sorry, that’s my ad agency CD/CW experiential bias surfacing)

Once I self-calmed to realize there was no way in hades that creative departments and brand pros would ‘get it’ on the digital level that Josh was dishing it out (or rather, they’d get it but not be able to translate it) I sat back and enjoyed his ‘show’ knowing teens and youth were safe and sound from predatory giants that wouldn’t have a prayer of being a ‘Hey Josh! TV’ knock off in any way shape or form.

josh-shippHis self-effacing comedic riff on himself, his family, and his life lessons instantly made me see how he could receive 100,000+  emails each year, and speak to teens live on tour, being silly with a subtext that sneaks up ‘ninja style’ with motivational prowess to “drop kick you with knowledge” that seeps into your soul.

Example? One of his priceless advice nuggets for Gen Y is to “quit something you’re bad at” (part of his current JumpShipp TV production and ‘Hello, My Name Is __’ films coming soon)

Frankly, I can think of a heckuvalotta midlife minions that could’ve used that media messaging EARLY on, to quit the power whining and ‘woulda, coulda, shouldas’ and reinvent themselves in Phoenix-rising mode like my favorite Echoing Green playbook encouraging change agents to ‘Be Bold.’

sy_avatar_ningYes, parents, I know, I’m not helping your ‘Suzy’s gonna be a doctor’ dreamcast, but the truth is, Josh Shipp is right…

Media has been telling kids for years that they can ‘do anything’ and ‘be anyone’ which is patently false.

(I’d love to see this curb the pop star wannabes and celebutantes that can’t sing or act; ‘reality shows’ actually DO perform a humane act of service I suppose) The quit while you’re ahead notion of ‘dismissing something you’re no good at’ is much more authentic to me. As he poignantly said,

“Look, let’s face it, Jiminy Cricket lied to me…all that ‘when you wish upon a star’ stuff is crap; dreams don’t come true; goals do.

We need to ADD VALUE and help this generation with their goals, not dreams.

Sure Martin Luther King had a dream, but then he got off his butt and DID something about it…”

“Hey, Josh!” Thanks for saying what I’m thinking so often!

Ok, I’m not just thinking it, I’m saying it to my teen too, but alas, she’d take ‘advice’ from Hey Josh’s ‘Dear Abby’ voice, or Josh’s “in your face but on your side” style, or her peer to peer posse more than any of MY  ramblings…

I take my own ‘ninja’approach to parenting, knowing that words will sneak up in an ‘aha’ moment on some level (honestly, we are  NOT wasting our breath, ye of ‘vintage adult specimen’ demographics) just keep patiently plodding away…it’s part of the job description, n’est ce pas?


Josh Shipp’s self-effacing, ‘embrace your goofiness’ manner is part of his charm in this blustery world of superlatives, self-awarded accolades and ‘bigger, better, best’ bravado…

This came through loud and clear in his Ypulse session, as he paused to joke, “some of you may be revising my wikipedia entry right now thinking ‘this guy’s a jerk’ followed by “hey, don’t Tweet that’ in mock fear of seeding the idea…

He particularly endeared himself to me personally by joking about his circular style of getting back to a point with fervor:

“Do NOT miss my message in my randomness!”

I can’t think of how many times I’ve thought that amidst my own lengthy Shaping Youth blog posts of yellow boxes and link-heavy off-shoots to places unplanned…

(What can I say? “Hey, Josh!”—We have parallel quirks!)

Ypulse was the perfect place to capture and convey the youth ‘pulse’ of dating, parents, friends, break-ups, identity, and all of that ‘why do I matter, what’s my purpose’ teen angst running through kids’ minds. For anyone trying to reach kids (parents, educators, youth advocates, and yes, marketers) his advice slinging is sage:

“Run it through your skeptical 15 year old mind”…

josh-twitIf you can honestly STILL say that you have a story to tell, the next benchmark would be asking if that same story is worth “retelling in a Facebook status line” or a Twitter update.

Mind you, I don’t adhere to that distilled concept of brevity in own my blog posts and deep dives, but I challenge anyone to reduce these articles into a Tweet of 140 characters. (That said, I’ll be ‘getting there’ in short form as soon as I find the right intern; S.O.S. please, anyone?)

My whole ‘don’t let the media define you before you define yourself’ message takes shape in each post differently, but if anyone could squish our S.Y. content into a microblurb it might be Josh…


He managed to create the gist of a “Commencement Address” into a ‘Tweet’ sized nugget:

“To the class of 09: You Be You. Your job doesn’t have to suck-You aren’t your job-Drink water-Less is more. Debt=bad. Hug ur mom #twitgrad09

Not exactly a memorable Paul Hawken Class of 2009 keeper for global mindshifting, but “Hey, Josh” not bad for a ‘mashup’ of many commencement thoughts …particularly veering toward 2009 ideals of 21st century public service.

hey-josh-factorySure he’s a solid marketer. Hand it to him.

He reiterated the whole ‘earning kids’ trust’ and ‘authenticity messaging’ which marketers have heard a gazillion times before, but he focused on the entrepreneurial economy where products should be ‘stories not brands’ with youth messaging either created BY a teen or at least SHAPED by a teen to resonate…and he did it in a unique style that was ‘distinctly Josh.’

For nonprofits like Shaping Youth, he validated the importance of expanding our kids, tweens and teen advisory boards (we’re looking NOW, please apply for summer service or fall quarter, teens!) and reiterated the necessity of our field data from the schools, and our ongoing research in pro-social online communities…

For media/marketing driven ventures with youth appeal, he reminded that kids need to be brought INTO the project early on (not just peripherally in ‘focus groups’ like lab rats)

Whether it’s a public service announcement, advocacy campaign, iphone app or ANY product or service youth might find useful…

It’s about discovering hands-on feedback by working WITH kids not pandering TO kids or marketing FOR kids.

This was echoed time and again by the next Ypulse keynote speaker, Wikinomics creator Don Tapscott (more on that to come).

Josh has a straightforward way with words that goes beyond jargon of “usability, needs assessment, ability to customize creations, upload UGC or share via social media”…by simply enabling digital kids fresh opportunities to ‘play with the toys’ and refine the product through feedback channels to ‘build a better mousetrap’ we get to a higher place.

In his own words, Josh Shipp sums up open source ‘buildable’ concepts with catch phrases that stick, like:

“Do you give me access to your ammo? Or do you hold onto it like a schoolgirl with Crayolas?”

flamesHands down, the most poignant part of Josh Shipp’s presentation was his unique ability to ‘speak to his story’ (being an orphan at birth, through 12 foster homes, battling teen depression, trying to sell his middleschool at age 14, writing hot checks, suicidal, etc.) not in a pity party or ‘look at me now’ Mary Tyler Moore hat-toss-moment but more of a sincere, “been through the fire”  data point, firsthand.

There’s instant credibility and earned authority no marketer can match with this “spokesperson for National Foster Care Month, marathon runner and guitar hero guy.”

Much like “real life heroes” Courtney Macavinta of Respect Rx, or abuse survivors Betty Makoni & Michealene Cristini Risley of Tapestries of Hope these are the ‘aha’ moments that MOVE us…The stories gleaned from those who has risen from the ashes if not the flames themselves.

That said, I’ll plead with marketers in ‘don’t try this at home’ mode, lest we end up with a gazillion fabricated ‘tell alls’ on Oprah or whatever to try to make a buck. (thankfully, youth can sniff out a storyboard dramatization vs. the real deal, but spare us all the attempts, and don’t take Josh literally on this, ok?)

Josh talks about his enduring relationship with his final set of foster parents and “one random woman who believed in me,”— a teacher who lured him into a leadership program, ‘ninja-marketing style’ by selling the class to him in the language a teen could relate to:

“Josh, it’s an easy class, there are lots of girls, you get out of school early, and there are cookies.”

That got a huge audience laugh with telltale head nodding of the simplicity and ‘on target’ brilliance. b

His delivery and anecdotes offer an inimitable style, as he describes his 300 pound, 6 foot 5 dad as “the lower case b” and his mom as “Martha Stewart on Redbull,” who conveyed his worthiness through assurance of permanence and a safe harbor despite his acting out.

This is a good reminder for ALL parents put through the teen testing ground of adversity and attention antics of angst and grappling with self-identity expression…

I can’t do justice to his imitation, but it was a mix of ‘matter of factness’ with unconditional love representing a foster care patience that conveyed a final pitstop on the road of households, as if to say, ‘don’t-mess-with-us-you’re-stuck-here-now’ in a tone of assurance that only a heartfelt emotional risk taker could truly deliver.

“Josh, your mom and I…we want you to know…(pause) we want you to know…we don’t see you as a problem, we see you as an opportunity.”

Wow. Well…as they say, “the rest is history”…Josh went on to overcome his adversity, write books, set his goals and land himself on everything from BlogTalk Radio’s Passion Parent Podcast to MTV’s  TRL, Comedy Central, NBC, FOX, TLC, the LA TIMES and live on stage with my all time favorite star, Mr. Bill Cosby…not to mention produce his own hit digital advice network.

He closed his Ypulse session with a reminder,

“I used to get kicked out of school for being the class clown, now I get paid for it.”

Think about that adults…(educators and parents, particularly!)

Square Peg in a Round HoleSometimes the fit may not feel right with certain youth, but if you’re trying too hard to pound a ‘square peg into a round hole’ you may eventually ‘get there’ but you’ll have shaved off the sides of the block to cram it in and make it fit.

What might those carved off sides represent in a human being?

At what cost conformity?

Any baby toy chunk of shape pounding will easily demo a more profound statement that lies beneath the surface…

Square Peg in a Round Hole_0565If you chisel off the edges of the block to fit, or hammer away at the very core, it eventually will either ‘break’ or ”fit” but have pieces missing…Like broken shards, the fit is usually TIGHT, rendering it immobile.

Yah. That’s right, kids.

Being stuck in the hole with no free space to maneuver. You can pound on it, but it will wedge even deeper…and still be stuck.

Some people lead their entire lives like this.

Josh Shipp is not one of them.

He’s the guy with the hacksaw ready to jailbreak the square block so it can be free to “Jump Shipp” and find a better fit elsewhere.

Power to him.

p.s. Did I mention he added his dvd in the Swag bag with a Mad Libs-style direct response card complete with stamp? Again, funny…but seriously smart.

Related Posts

Who Put the Mashup in this Year’s Mashup?

AspenSpin’s TWTRCON ’09  & Ypulse Mashup Report

MediaSnackers Podcast w/Josh Shipp (Barking Robot/Derek Baird)

MTV’s Josh Shipp Loves Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother (For Teens)

Hey Josh! And other Google Video Finds on Josh Shipp

Not to be mistaken for UCLA Bruins’ Josh Shipp! 😉

Visual Credits: Shhhh icon:, Josh Shipp FB photo; ‘live at Ypulse’ photo via AspenSpin Twitter-Ypulse gallery, Flames photo: Jean Louis Venne via, Stockphoto and HeyJosh! site



  1. Thanks so much for the great article. I was at the presentation and LOVED IT, but you managed to bring out some of the best parts that I had already forgotten! Nicely Done.

  2. Thanks, David…he’s got the gift of gab kids can relate to, and has the possibility to champion change (and healing) in SO many ways…Especially his service with The Nat’l Foster Care Foundation where I’m sure he knocks the ball right outta the park in ‘Freedom Writers’ takes-one-to-know-one style! 🙂

  3. Hi Amy,

    What an awesome take on Josh’s opening keynote.Good perspectives. He got some people out of their normal comfort zone and others just plain uncomfortable 🙂


  4. Thanks, Gregg, I found it amusing that on his FB page it shows a photo of the Ypulse ballroom venue at the Hotel Nikko and one of the kids has cracked, “you must be speaking to the old people with a fancy set up like that” 😉

    Always good life reminders to see how pre-judgment comes from all sides, even when it’s got solid hints of truth…

    In contrast, his brainstorming of his flowchart via phone/photo uploads and his real time snaps of meetings with the producers shows clear thinking amidst some humble ‘no room with a view’ types of environs…(less is more mode)

    Guess I fit in there as I’ve always ditched the “big name on the door” approach for home office HQ and virtual sourcing.

    Even in my ad agency days my focus was providing power house virtual teams a la carte: saving the client money, streamlining the flow of who’s DOING the work versus ‘poseurs’ PRETENDING to do the work in fancy offices…

    It used to make me nuts when the client would get billed for Senior Creative Staff time when the concept had come from a junior CW wannabe from accounting—(At least in the large multi-layered shops)

    Thanks for taking the time to comment…Don Tapscott is up next re: HIS keynote, which I enjoyed too.

  5. Wow this sounded fascinating I’m reading Guy Kawasaki’s book Reality Check and it sounds like this kid is a natural or he read his book.

    Thanks for sharing I felt like I was there for the presentation.

    Dorothy from grammology

    Dorothy Stahlnecker’s last blog post..A new book for help on the inner self

  6. Nice post , Merci pour un autre blog d’information , I ont été à la recherche de ces informations !

  7. I have two friends in wheelchairs. One who is a motivational speaker and one who was until he died. It’s so interesting how their very visible disability can get others to stop moping around. The example they set is so positive. Another great example.

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