i disagree with everything you just said.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

red sky @ morning.

without fail, every time i go through the austin airport, they dump me into the "ssss" line, which means no matter what i do — no matter how much extraneous clothing i remove — i'm going to get the pat-down. i travel through quite a few cities these days, but austin's the only one this needlessly thorough. they even hand me a small, laminated pink card filled with metal to carry through the metal detector, to ensure that the buzzer sounds when i pass underneath; strangely protocol-driven, these folks.

and then i'm standing in line in this glassed-in cattle call, waiting to get wanded along with a few other folks who are understandably anxious about getting to their flights. people in austin don't move very fast even on a good day (too hot), and the "possible terrorist" line doesn't exactly get high priority. unfortunate combo.

twenty minutes later and still two people from the front, the guy behind me breaks the cramped silence, asking everybody in line the same thing, moving back to front:

"so why you here? you flying one-way?"

i'm not, though, and tell him as much when he gets to me. i'm on the return leg of a 4 day trip to texas. i have no idea what i've done to engender such mistrust.

"guess you must've voted democrat in the last election."

i mock-laugh, and then realize he isn't kidding. aw, crap. apparently it has come to this.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

on the nature of invention.

how scary is it that dave winer is our generation's xerox parc?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

some better business thinking.

hugely insightful anecdote from philip evans about the real long-term value of collaboration (and by extension, collaboration technologies) as a way of doing business:

When you compare Toyota with the Big Three automakers in the U.S. there's a fundamental difference in the way they deal with their suppliers. The Big Three basically negotiate to the last penny. In particular, if a supplier succeeds in a process improvement that lowers costs, he knows darn well in one negotiation round that General Motors will come back and demand a price concession taking away that benefit. That gives that supplier a very powerful incentive not to share with anybody, least of all General Motors, what that process improvement was.

Toyota has a different philosophy. The company allows its suppliers to keep the benefits of their innovation, but it insists that that process improvement in technology is shared not just with Toyota but also with all the other component suppliers. As a result, you see among that population of 60 or 70 companies a rate of sharing ideas beyond what you see in the U.S. It has a cumulative effect over time of driving up productivity in the whole Toyota supply chain. Over a 30-year period, its productivity has gone up six times as much as in the U.S. system. I think that's entirely because of the difference in philosophies. At a time when 50% of the cost of a car comes from outside components, and your suppliers are 600% more productive, that buys you one hell of an advantage — even if you give some of it back to them in price concessions.

take a minute to read the whole interview (which also includes my business partner and ap ceo janice talking about this whole new internet thing.) good stuff.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

the ol' either/or.

from the article "the power of us," a facile take on the effect of the network (short review: right idea, wrong lens), comes one of the dumbest things i've ever read in businessweek:

sound pretty threatening to anyone invested in the status quo? you bet. indeed, as the title of rheingold's book implies, there could be a dark side to this new cooperative force, especially if it results in mob rule. quite often, the best solution to a problem comes from the sudden flash of insight from a solitary genius such as charles darwin or albert einstein. it would be a tragedy if these folks, sometimes unpopular in their times, got lost in the cooperative crowds. Clearly, peer production has its limits. Almost certainly, it will never build railroads, grow wheat, run nuclear power plants, or write great novels.

ignoring for a moment the deep obviousness of that last statement, neither darwin nor einstein would ever have claimed to be operating in "solitary." they had this little thing backing them up, called "history," and this other little thing, "culture," both of which lent a bit of a helping hand. standing on the shoulders of giants, etc. etc.

and the idea that good ideas won't get heard or noticed because there are just too many of them — please. ideas are, in a very real sense, worth nothing; execution, that's the key. success or failure of that idea in the expanse of the world; that's what makes a great idea. and that success or failure loses nothing if we gain more space for ideas, more opportunity for people to participate in their creation; more will rise to the top, is all. good ideas beget new worlds beget more good ideas; that's the way we work. we play our part, we make our connections, the best and smartest of us make the best and smartest of of those connections, but we are never, ever acting in "solitary."

i guess it's no huge surprise businessweek's so bought into the great man theory, but you would think that the failure of the cult of the ceo over the last decade and a half would have at least given them a slightly wider perspective.

Friday, June 10, 2005

rob walker (from the nyt) finally nails why the idea of "design thinking" makes my skin crawl.

second paragraph from the bottom on the core77 interview:

"of course, this is from me as an outsider, but the thing I hear from the design world is "we are artists who solve problems." but the problem with that is the discussion doesn't seem to start with asking, "what are the five biggest problems in the world?" it seems to start someplace else. and wherever it starts is what leads to 200 choices for toothbrushes."

right questions, wrong people. or to put it another way: my biggest issue with design thinking is that the emphasis is always on the word "design," when it really ought to be on the word "thinking."

Monday, June 06, 2005

she drove it like she stole it.

the hold steady's new album, "separation sunday" (sample mp3), is one of the best i've heard this year. just thought you should know. pure narrative folly, wailed out by the lead singer, craig finn, in some sort of insane sloppy beautiful arrythmic mess — and then the piano kicks in and you're all "where the hell did that come from? and is that a gospel chorus?" all hanging together thanks to the magic of pure, steaming, loud and lazy guitar rock. awesome.

further elaboration on these points at pitchfork (which accurately describes finn's singing as "unhinged") and popmatters (which accurately describes finn's singing as "drunk").

(aside to simon: don't know if you'll go for this one, but i love it so you'll have to let me know what you think.)

Friday, June 03, 2005

twenty-two twenty-two-year-olds.

of the many signs that the internet industry has gone phoenix, the most disheartening is the re-emergence of the "interactive agency" and their ham-handed approach to web consulting gigs. they're back — the ones who charged millions, accomplished little, and left a legacy of suspicion and mistrust among the general public for all things internet.

and those are the better ones, the ones who rose up along with the internet and made honest (though no less unfortunate) mistakes along the way. let's not even speak of all the traditional ad agencies with their "interactive" arms. for the love of god; most of them, as far as i can tell, haven't learned a single lesson in the five or so years that the rest of us have been striving to figure out how to advance the field and move the conversation forward. they're still slapping an outdated model on a new world, stuck in a world of print and brand that was never right for the web, hasn't been fully relevant for a decade, and becomes increasingly outmoded with every passing month.

you would think we would be on to newer, smarter, better mistakes, but, sadly, no. the re-emergence of the south park economy in the last six or so months has meant that they're crawling back out of hibernation and swinging it around again in public.

this has become apparent to me in recent months when we've gone up for a project against said firms, and one of the biggest concerns the potential client voices is that we aren't proposing a big enough team. see, we normally operate most of our projects with two to three person teams, to manage communication overhead (which can be significant, even on small projects) and, because, frankly, that's all that most projects need. we developed this approach coming up out of the dotcom bust in 2001 when it was all we could afford to do, but quickly came to appreciate our ability within this structure to pull off some significant, fortune 500 level work. all with just three people; in fact, especially with just three people. oh, sure, we'll bring in additional specialties where necessary, and we've had occasion where we've assigned a fourth regular to a particular project, but again and again we've seen that adding bodies just creates complexity, not value.

not so with the big guys. they consider it a selling point that they're willing to devote so much of their staff to your gig. and it's unfortunate, because on the face of it the equation is simple enough (more people == better!) that a lot of potential customers believe them.

and then they learn, several months and several hundred thousand, or even several million, dollars later, that they're spending a lot of capital to have a bunch of people around the conference table who aren't doing very much but charge like they are. one of our clients a few years back, burned by just this sort of thing in the recent past (and turning towards us and our model in part because of that) called it "the twenty-two twenty-two-year-olds" who "unload from the bus and bill by the hour." experience taught him our approach was better, but you know what they say about learning from experience.

and on that note, i'm going to retreat to my copy of the mythical man month now, thank you very much.

truth in publishing.

this essay by jason scott, about his experience with developing a documentary about the history of bulletin board systems and then struggling over whether and how to approach its copyright, is an extraordinarily honest piece of writing. charging into this brave new world of open and openly distributed media — open whether you want it to be or not — means dealing with the contradictions inherent in the clash of control and culture: between authority and authenticity, between the commercial and the communal, between influence and affluence. scott's assessment of this, from both his left brain and his right, is dead on the money, and so he gets mine. (not to mention, i loved the dial-up bbses, back in the day.)