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June, 2007

Open Questions About Openness

I am a long-time reader of noahbrier.com, first-time poster. I am not a marketing person, though I do keep up with this blog and the insightful discussions on it, and so struggled a little with what I could write on this blog that would be in keeping with its spirit.

So instead of a tutorial on how to split a check in NYC or a rant about the un-discussed dangers to the American republic, I would like, with the indulgence of the readership, to posit a few questions of balance.

When is it good and right to ignore the feedback and the wishes of your Consumer?

I followed the unveiling of the current generation of video game consoles quite closely. Every time a new feature of the Wii (which at that point was called the Nintendo Revolution) was revealed, be it the motion sensing or the cost-reducing-but-graphically-unimpressive CPU or the name change, video game websites exploded with negative comments. Bloggers excoriated Nintendo, petitions were started, and it was declared Nintendo would soon be out of the hardware business; the community by and large decried Nintendo for ignoring the consumer.

Snakes on a Plane was very receptive to the suggestions it received from what studio executives must have assumed was a large cult following. It was largely a movie by internet committee.

The Wii is selling as fast as Nintendo can produce units; SoaP was a fun meme (for a while) but somewhat of a financial disappointment.

One letter to a company is supposed to equal the opinion of several dozen people. I doubt internet communications (e.g. email, blogs, forums), with their immediacy and effortlessness, carry that same weight. Everyone may have a voice on the internet, but with the lack of physical presence and anonymity, it is easy for one very vocal and dedicated person to look like 50. And there are bad ideas out there. Somebody liked New Coke.

When should a company decide that they know what their consumer wants better that the consumer themselves?

How do you reconcile specialization with cross-discipline applications or analogs in learning (in a way that is not shallow)?

I am a huge fan of applying approaches, ideas, and theories from one discipline to another. I am delighted when connections are made between seemingly disparate fields. However, I feel I often run into ideas from science and math that are taken out of context, applied incorrectly, or used to draw fallacious conclusions. Science and math are subjects I am familiar with; I don’t doubt it is similar with other fields.

It is very easy to misunderstand an idea based on a shallow treatment. A condensed-AP-article version of a theory, idea, or approach to a problem is asking for misappropriation (on a side note I have found that shallow articles are my frustration as of late with Wired). Then there is the difference between understanding an idea and being able to apply it. Only with application are you going to knock down some bodies.

Is the answer for someone with a wide knowledge base to “manage� people with rich, specialized knowledge bases? Or is it to grab someone versed in a particular field whenever you run into an obstacle? Outsourcing a new idea seems like a recipe for miscommunication, for a beast you did not intend to create, but then maybe something good comes of that as well.

I see many wonderful musings concerning disciplinary cross-pollination. Are these ideas only useful as metaphors and similes? If not, how do we get these ideas out of the ether?

How do you make sure you are not promoting revolution for revolution’s sake?

I suppose a reformulation of this question would be, “How do you make sure that you are not trying to restructure your industry based on a fad?� There is something romantic and exciting about a call for drastic change, but does a company need to, or even should it, adapt to the latest whim of the internet? It’s hard to be nimble with a legal department.

When I entered undergrad our rather prestigious architecture school had just lost many of the original thinkers who made it so prestigious. The remaining professors were left trying to replicate the magic. A friend told me of one day in class, when a professor looked at a student’s model and scolded, “Be avant-garde!� Ponder how ridiculous that is for a minute, to have this oxymoronic cannon. I am always reminded of this story when I hear about a company planning a viral campaign.

I like openness, but do we really want to see how the sausage is made?


Though I did pontificate and was vague, I meant these as actual questions, and I would love to hear this community’s thoughts.

I will work on brevity and re-read my Strunk and White. Also, you may have noticed that I am the only guest poster without a web sight, so in closing, ERIK DIES, ERIK DIES, ERIK DIES, ERIK DIES, ERIK DIES. There. Now when I google my name maybe something other that an obituary will pop up…

June 11, 2007
Noah Brier | Thanks for reading. | Don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk.