According to Chris Anderson, curator of TED, online video has the capacity to offer a universal standard for everyone to be able to share and even teach anything online. He makes the point that before the printing press, in person connection was the most important means for humans to learn. With printed word came scalability leaving personal connection on the side burner for about 500 years. Now, perhaps for the first time, visual learning can scale.

Online video was easily discounted when it seemed all YouTube offered were distractions. As online video has matured and leaders like Anderson have emerged, video distribution is raising everyone’s game. I can now see what the best in the world are doing and be inspired to make my own you-nique contribution. One watch all the way through Chris Anderson’s talk is sure to convince you of that. If you don’t have that kind of time, at least check out the 6 year old breakdancer.

But, what does this mean for visual creatives like you and me?

Photography is a medium that has long scaled. The “picture is worth a thousand words” cliché declared that a long time ago. But, how might photographers contribute to the visual learning eco-system in a meaningful way that wasn’t available before? … where we can get inspired to greater heights, not as consumers but as educators ourselves?

My question is: Will enough leaders emerge within our ranks? If they do (…if you do… if I do…), I think we may have a running chance at competing. If not, I think we’re in trouble.

Let me explain…

I suppose it started with global phenomena like Flickr, where a critical mass of people (5 billionth image just posted actually) have committed to sharing their creations. Even just staring at other photographers websites at 2am and feeling envious inspired more than a few photographers to step up their game. Stock image companies and the Etsy’s of the world made those efforts commercially viable to the freelancer. Enter DP Review, Photo Focus and the Adobe TV‘s sprouting up… For us photographers, those were major leaps forward for giving people enough inspiration to go create something better… something new. In many ways, all these players began to contribute in a way that created a bit of an ecosystem for visual storytellers.

We had what Anderson calls innovators, curators, trend-spotters, cheerleaders, skeptics, mavericks and superspreaders. Many of us play multiple roles in this ecosystem and even have found ways to pay the bills by creating value for others through filtering, organizing, yelling, promoting and streamlining the delivery of great education, inspiration and the creations themselves. I guess I’m wondering what you’re doing to keep this thing alive?

What Anderson’s observations tell me is that video distribution as an educational and inspirational means is more than a fun and clever new enterprise. It might just be the thing that saves our industry’s neck.

Recently, pioneering organizations like Creative LIVE (I’m a huge fan of what these guys have done, despite being a co-producer of something similar) have made new contributions to the ecosystem. They better just be the beginning though. Our industry needs to extend well beyond sharing our direct creations. Online broadcasting [especially INTERACTIVE online broadcasting] has now become a teaching organism that reproduces itself. In fact, it is inspiring a whole new level of creativity and fresh enthusiasm.

Of course, the dark side of the ecosystem is also present. Like white blood cells who feel threatened by anything new, there are those who are fighting for the days before the internet showed up. Sadly, I think these folks have misunderstood our times.

Raising our collective game needs to be our industry’s new mantra…

… not just for the individual but for all of us. It used to be that photographers were afraid of the upstarts coming in the door. We’re crazy if we think newbies are our big problem. They’re not. What I’m nervous about are the unusual suspects well beyond the inspired followers. The fourteen year-old kid who sees something online, invents something brand new IN THEIR MIND and just happens to pick up a camera en route to fulfilling that vision. When we get blindsided by these true creatives, we ought not be surprised. The world is being reinvented right before out eyes and we are fools if we don’t leverage the same tools of the unorthodox creative.

Why watch TED or Creative LIVE or create something new of your own and share it with the world? Because it may be our only hope for sustaining our professional ecosystem into the future.

We all have a role to play… the question is, what’s yours?