Archive for June 2007


Boxes and Arrows: It Seemed Like The Thing To Do At The Time

June 27th, 2007 — 10:05am

The Lessons From Fail­ure Series (curated by Chris­t­ian Crum­lish) kicked off today at Boxes and Arrows, lead­ing with my med­i­ta­tion on being an entre­pre­neur and what it means to face fail­ure as a mem­ber of a rigidly defined soci­ety, titled It Seemed Like The Thing To Do At The Time. Stay tuned for three fur­ther install­ments from tal­ented fel­low pan­elists.
Also, look for part two of my series on design­ing healthy user expe­ri­ences for por­tals using the IA Build­ing Blocks in early July. Part one — The Chal­lenge of Dash­boards and Por­tals — describ­ing the struc­tural and usabil­ity weak­nesses of flat archi­tec­tures, was pub­lished in Decem­ber.
Many thanks to the hard work­ing vol­un­teers at B+A for cre­at­ing a forum for these ideas and the com­mu­nity around them!

Comment » | Building Blocks, Ideas, User Experience (UX)

Why Failed Societies Are Relevant to Social Media

June 18th, 2007 — 10:08am

For reg­u­lar read­ers won­der­ing about the recent quiet here, a notice that Boxes and Arrows will shortly pub­lish an arti­cle I’ve been work­ing on for a while in the back­ground, titled, “It Seemed Like the Thing To Do At the Time: The Power of State of Mind”. This is the writ­ten ver­sion of my panel pre­sen­ta­tion Lessons From Fail­ure: Or How IAs Learn to Stop Wor­ry­ing and Love the Bombs from the 2007 IA Sum­mit in Las Vegas.
I’ve writ­ten about orga­ni­za­tions and fail­ure — Signs of Cri­sis and Decline In Orga­ni­za­tions — in this blog before (a while ago, but still a pop­u­lar post­ing), and wanted to con­sider the sub­ject on a larger level. With the rapid spread of social soft­ware / social media and the rise of com­plex social dynam­ics in on-line envi­ron­ments, explor­ing fail­ure at the level of an entire soci­ety is timely.
In The Fish­bowl
Failed or fail­ing soci­eties are an excel­lent fish­bowl for observers seek­ing pat­terns related to social media, for two rea­sons. First, the high inten­sity of fail­ure sit­u­a­tions reveals much of what is ordi­nar­ily hid­den in social struc­tures and pat­terns: Impend­ing col­lapse leads peo­ple to dis­pense with care­fully main­tained social con­struc­tions.
One source of this height­ened inten­sity is the greatly increased stakes of soci­etal fail­ure (vs. most other kinds), which often means sud­den and dra­matic dis­rup­tions to basic liv­ing and eco­nomic pat­terns, the decline of cities and urban con­cen­tra­tions, and dra­matic pop­u­la­tion decrease. Another source is the very broad scope of the after­ef­fects; because a fail­ing soci­ety involves an entire cul­ture, the affects are com­pre­hen­sive, touch­ing every­one and every­thing.
Sec­ondly, soci­eties often com­mand sub­stan­tial qual­i­ta­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive resources that can help them man­age cri­sis or chal­lenges, thereby avert­ing fail­ure. Smaller, less sophis­ti­cated enti­ties lack the resource base of a com­plex social organ­ism, and con­se­quently can­not put up as much of a fight.
Exam­ples of resources avail­able at the level of a soci­ety include:

  • Lead­ers and plan­ners ded­i­cated to focus­ing on the future
  • Large amounts of accu­mu­lated knowl­edge and experience
  • Sophis­ti­cated struc­tures for deci­sion mak­ing and control
  • Mech­a­nisms for main­tain­ing order dur­ing crises
  • Col­lec­tive resilience from sur­viv­ing pre­vi­ous challenges
  • Sub­stan­tial stores of resources such as food and mate­ri­als, money, land
  • Tools, meth­ods, and orga­ni­za­tions pro­vid­ing economies of scale, such as bank­ing and com­merce networks
  • Sys­tems for mobi­liz­ing labor for spe­cial purposes
  • Con­nec­tions to other soci­eties that could pro­vide assis­tance (or poten­tial rescue)

Despite these mit­i­gat­ing resources, the his­tor­i­cal and arche­o­log­i­cal records over­flow with exam­ples of failed soci­eties. Once we read those records, the ques­tion of how these soci­eties defined them­selves seems to bear directly on quite a few of the out­comes.
I dis­cuss three soci­eties in the arti­cle: Easter Island, Tikopia, and my own small startup com­pany. We have insight into the fate of Easter Island soci­ety thanks to a rich arche­o­log­i­cal record that has been exten­sively stud­ied, and descrip­tions of the Rapa Nui soci­ety in writ­ten records kept by Euro­pean explor­ers vis­it­ing since 1722. Tikopia of course is still a func­tion­ing cul­ture. My startup was a tiny affair that serves as a use­ful foil because it shows all the mis­takes soci­eties make in a com­pressed span of time, and on a scale that’s easy to exam­ine. The Norse colonies in North Amer­ica and Green­land are another good exam­ple, though space con­straints didn’t allow dis­cus­sion of their failed soci­ety in the arti­cle.
Read the arti­cle to see what hap­pens to all three!
Semi Ran­dom Assort­ment of Quo­ta­tions
In the mean­time, enjoy this sam­pling of quo­ta­tions about fail­ure, knowl­edge, and self, from some well-known — and mostly suc­cess­ful! — peo­ple.
“Tech­no­log­i­cal change is like an axe in the hands of a patho­log­i­cal crim­i­nal.” — ALBERT EINSTEIN
“It is not the strongest of the species that sur­vives, nor the most intel­li­gent, but the one most respon­sive to change.” — CHARLES DARWIN
“It is impos­si­ble for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” — EPICTETUS
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” — THOMAS EDISON
“It is on our fail­ures that we base a new and dif­fer­ent and bet­ter suc­cess.” — HAVELOCK ELLIS
“Life is a process of becom­ing, a com­bi­na­tion of states we have to go through. Where peo­ple fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it.” — ANAIS NIN
“We read the world wrong and say that it deceives us.” — RABINDRANATH TAGORE
“Who­ever longs to res­cue quickly both him­self and oth­ers should prac­tice the supreme mys­tery: exchange of self and other.” — SHANTIDEVA
“Fail­ure is instruc­tive. The per­son who really thinks learns quite as much from his fail­ures as from his suc­cesses.” — JOHN DEWEY

2 comments » | architecture, Ideas, The Media Environment

Back to top