Monday, October 20, 2008

Incomplete things

I've been trying to think of an idea or theme that hangs off the principle that there is an inbuilt incompleteness or randomness to lots of different processes, if only to prove the thinking behind the last post.  

So here goes...

If you think about it deliberate mistakes are what allows life to develop.  If everything was created perfectly then a new or different kind of perfect would be impossible.  Mutations are a good thing to help adaptaton.  

Or think back to chemistry lessons and you will remember that its the atoms that have an extra electron or one missing that are most happy to react and be transformed into something new.

Its not unreasonalbe to expect that culture might work in the same way.  A perfectly rounded story like a fairy tale is far less likely to create a new thought than something more unresolved like a mysterious painting.   

Someone on TV the other day said 'the media abhors a vacuum,' to justify the idea that if there is no useful leads on a big story then the press will naturally end up filling the void with conjecture and hearsay.  I expect that our minds work like this as well.  If something comes with room for interpretation or completion or a bit missing then the natural reation must surely be to close the loop and fuse this open ended structure with the Lego of other thoughts and ideas already there.  This also seems to ring true with modern teaching methods that do not teach facts and absolutes but processes and themes that have more of an evolutionary capability.

In other words development comes more easily when things are not fully ressolved which is why if you were designing a system you would leave a few pieces missing before passing it on to the next person.   

More blurred line thinking...

Integration is something that planner types love to talk about and I’m probably one of the worst. Having said that its one of those ideas that can seem to rule the world when applied in big blurred lines to more interesting things than communications.

For example researchers of the brain and how it produces conscious experience have started to think of it as a process that comes about from the integration of all of the major areas and the connection between them. I think of it like one of those transparent jelly fish where there is a constant flow of circulating pulsating lights – as long as the flow keeps going between all parts of the structure then consciousness keeps getting produced.

If integration processes are fundamental to our orientation to time and space then it is probably a good way to understand lots of things.

Sunday I was running but trying harder than this to keep up with the In Our time podcast hosted by Melvin Bragg. It was about how mathematics had had to step back from its quest to know everything in absolute terms via a movement to create a set of immovable laws. The realization was that even in pretty simple sets of numbers there were paradoxes that could not be resolved.

If I am honest I don’t really know that much about what they were on about but I do know that the implication was that Maths had to make do with an incomplete understandings of things.

Later I went to see the new Cohen Brothers film. Like most of their films I came out not knowing that well how much I liked it as so many of the traditional rules and reference points about stories were missing. I had to make do with an incomplete understanding. But then in this case I think it was the point. The film portrayed people from different strands of society seemingly bouncing off each other in incoherent and chaotic ways as if there couldn’t really be design for the way that any of it worked out.

In between these two chaotic sources of words and pictures that were swirling around together in my head I listened to Evan Davies' podcast which was about the psychology of the money market as part of the diagnosis of its current dysfunctional behavior. My understanding was again incomplete and I stopped listening in places but I think I get the main argument that the random factors inherent in the market system allow us to know little more than it will go one way or the other – in the long term the rest is chance.

So today the world seemed to be telling me in different ways that there is in everything an un-accountable element that can’t be weaned out of even simple numbers.  Three incomplete experiences that each in their own way conveyed the fundamental incomplete nature of things. They had each been separate and out there until now when they were all fed in to one integrating process in my head. I am pretty sure that no-one else had all of these in all of the same contexts and even if they did they would definitely have been different to the sum total of every other experience that had gone in before.

Therein is the potential for a new original thought to be re-circulated back into the process. The integration and blurring of experiences is the construction process of new ideas.

Not that I have any yet but I’m working on it : )

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Arguments against the Long tail

The long tail observation is based on the idea that well organised distribution of content is no-longer necessary… that content is king and that the consumer is king of content. Following this logic any content can and will be made available for any consumer at any time; the smallest niche of demand will be personally served and everyone will put together their own channels and playlists that are as unique to them as their fingerprint.

This feels very much like the future and pretty liberating as well; endless choice of endless content. Having said this it is easy to forget or ignore the downside of this. The best example I can think of is the BBC in the UK which is TV equally funded by a licence fee for everyone who owns one. Australian friends of mine find this hilariously antiquated – like a TV was a dangerous weapon such as a handgun that needs to be controlled. What this means is that the BBC does not have the remit to make a much money as possible and instead has the one to serve the public interest.

Stephen Fry makes this argument 1000 times better than I every could but it boils down to the idea that a diverse society needs collective broadcasting entities to integrate us, care about our cultural experience and germinate and grow us into content that we would not alternatively have found our way to.

The alternative is a world where people exist only within their small niche which the content market will serve as cheaply as it possibly can.

I am sold that the market will not always nourish the right content for the greater interest of everybody and would not change the BBC. I wonder how many other markets would work better with this or some other model.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Idea generation technique 1

In a recent workshop that i was in about running workshops we discussed three universal types of sources for generating ideas.  The trouble is I can't remember the other two.  And the one I can remember is the least practical for anything that has a strong structure to it.  

Idea generation technique... Random.  The principle of which is to force an idea out of any set of random things until something sticks.

Why does it work?  I'm no expert but I expect if you follow a normal path you would end up with 100 ideas that all sit within a very similar part of the spectrum.  With the scatter gun approach you could end up with a 100 that forcibly fit within every different shade of the rainbow.  Some will be blindingly ugly but at least you will have created range.

Limitations - Works better with less structured projects.  Requires faith and attracts ridicule.

Example - To find an idea for a blog post follow this link and scroll down until you find a photo that makes you want to write a one (this is what i did for the previous post.) 

P.S. this was the first image that caught my eye on the above link even though its a bit random : )

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Designed to sell

Something that tries to do one thing but that actually causes the opposite effect should not really happen that often you think about it.  Its ironic... literally.  It s a bit of a balls up to have to explain to someone that the measures that you introduced didn't have the desired effect.  Nor did they have any other kind of positive effect.  In fact the only effect they had was the exact and total mirror image of what you set out to achieve.  Its does not make for a good story.

In simple terms why does this happen?  You could put it down to trying to hard.  If you really want something to happen then chasing that alone would actually preoccupy you from spending time and effort on the things that were most likely to be productive towards that goal.  

A good example would be that it takes men at least until they are 25 and possibly later to realise that getting really drunk is not necessary the best way to attract women.

You can draw the same parallel in art.  The harder you try to create a commercial success the less chance you have of creating a master piece.  Most of the worlds greatest and most valuable art first changed hands for a pittance.  

To some extent the same is true of marketing and business.  The more directly that you try and  chase sales the more this goal becomes difficult to attain.  The most successful companies are often the ones that are led by a bigger strategic or personal vision rather than by following the market blindly in the pursuit of immediate sales success.  But this is a difficult position to uphold in a meeting where you have to convince people that you need to take on a big new cost or turn down a big new contract not because you know that this will work best in the long run, but that you think it just might.  If you own the company you can do it; or if you are given the same kind of freedom.  However most kinds of corporate entities don't work like that.

The only answer that i can put forward to encourage the kind of bravery and counter intuitive thinking is a strategy that is so well ingrained and articulated that it would be unthinkable to shift off course just by a little.  Every company needs to know its purpose or reason for being with as much conviction as any personal vision that an individual might have.  Once you have this you would need to stick to it even until the point that it seems to be leading you in the wrong direction.  If the company purpose or reason for being is a good enough one then this logic says it should come good in the end.