Archive for October, 2008

Scarcity of control

October 31, 2008

Before I forget: Wayne mentioned earlier today that, whereas we (being the privileged ones we are) have a growing abundance of so many things, the thing that is getting more scarce is … control!

That, I think, is very true for my own context as a university professor: content, bandwidth, processing power, communication links, support tools, … are all becoming more easily available. What is becoming really scarce is the amount of control I have over, for instance, my students: they work on more open ended projects, in a more flexible way, with more diverse resources, etc.

It’s a bit scary sometimes, but it certainly is A Good Thing. I think. What do YOU think?

Global Snowball has a Heartbeat?

October 31, 2008

As per my posting a few days ago “Indi-Groups?” and continuing some comments from my discussion with Kevin Kelly, I was struck by his observation and phrasing (my best attempt to paraphrase from the conversation):

“we are living in a very new and special time when we simultaneously have dramatic increases in the power of individualization AND the power of the group”

In the vernacular of the Snowflake Effect I had been pointing out similar ends of the spectrum from individual Snowflakes to the collective Snowball such as Pluralization of Personalization and “Snowballs are Snowflakes too!”


Kevin noted this startling charting of the October 2008 financial market crash from a recent New York Times article which shows how we are truly living in a global economy that is now acting more like a single organism.  As I recall Kevin captured this nicely when he referred to it as “an economic heartbeat”.


Sure seems to be powerful proof that we are indeed living in a time characterized by the simultaneous powers of the individual Snowflakes and collective Snowball.


October 30, 2008

As per many of my previous comments here, articles on Off Course – On Target and many of my presentations, I see more and more examples of a meta trend where basic human functions are being transformed from distinctly separate roles into a mashup of combined roles.  I credit Alvin Toffler with spotting and naming one of the first of these when he coined the term Pro-sumer in his book The Third Wave to describe what he saw as a future society where rather than being either a producer or a consumer we would all take on both roles simultaneously.  Toffler wrote about this back in the 60’s and 70’s and I think we can now clearly see how prescient he was as we live in just such a society in many parts of the world today.

I’ve been speaking about these trends for many years and noting more and more examples of the same kind of integration and blending of fundamental human roles.  I’ll be addressing more of these in coming postings, podcasts and articles but for today I wanted to reference one that came up in my discussions with Kevin Kelly yesterday.  Kevin noted how this is a very new and special time when we simultaneously have dramatic increases in the power of individualization AND the power of the group.  If we were to use Toffler’s example of creating a new dual term word we could call this Indi-Groups. 

A few days ago I wrote about how the Snowflake Effect applies equally to both individuals and groups in the posting “Pluralization of Personalization” and yesterday Kevin went on to point out things like the need to distinguish between “the wisdom of the crowd and the stupidity of the mob”.  I pondered whether things like focus groups might now represent “the stupidity of the mob” or group think, which so typically end up concluding the opposite of what the larger group they are supposed to represent will actually prefer and choose (Erik has talked and blogged about this extensively in some of his previous postings)

To my perhaps biased perception these are all further examples of the growing influence and affect of the The Snowflake Effect and precisely why Erik and I are so passionately pursuing it.


October 28, 2008

Sometimes, it is difficult to decide whether to post here or there. The post on the experiment with open science is there. And now it’s linked from here 😉

How Far Can We Go?

October 28, 2008

Had a fantastic time with Kevin Kelly today here at the Learning 2008 event when I was privileged to be his “escort” and host.  Had a chance for some very stimulating discussion with him as well as the chance to listen to him on stage as well as in a one hour Q&A session afterwards.  In the next few days I’ll post a number of other topics and observations that emerged from these various discussions and interactions .

for now the one I’ll just post the short question he posed which was “How far can we go with linking and assembling small pieces together? “ and his own answer which was “We don’t know” 

This was in reference to the continuous ramp up of piecing small things together to make larger yet single functioning things and systems.  We had a great discussion on our mutual view of the power of mashups and the expansion of this term to be a much larger conceptual model.  Wikipedia was used as an example and covered in some depth as we also had the benefit of having Sue Gardner from Wikipedia with us.  However Kevin shares a fascination with mechanical things and tools and how these too have more and more examples of being mashups.  His point was that we continue to find that these can be larger and larger and more and more functional end results that come about largely on their own, quite unexpectedly and we really don’t know what the upper limit is to the pattern.  Kevin noted how this is very similar way that living organisms evolve to larger and larger more complex species.

My favorite comment though was his observation that we are witnessing more and more examples of things which are as he put it:

Impossible in theory and possible in practice.

Sure matches with my experience and our need to focus on increasing our awareness of the art of the possible.  Stay tuned, more to follow.

Snowflakes Pecha Kucha style

October 27, 2008

I have a great time every time I’m involved with Pecha Kucha sessions and just had the latest experience in Orlando, FL tonight.  For those not familiar with Pecha Kucha it is an entertaining and effective form of sharing a topic you are passionate about with others.  The format is very simple, you get exactly 20 slides and each slide is displayed for exactly 20 seconds before it is automatically changed to the next.  Each PK therefore lasts exactly 6 minutes 40 seconds.  You can read more about this in some previous postings over on my Off Course – On Target site such as the post “Fast, Fresh and Furious” and “Adding Arrows to our Communications Quiver”

Two things really struck and stuck to me tonight.  The first was just how much of a Snowflake Effect these are.  I encouraged each of the PK “presenters” to simply pick something they were passionate about and then find 20 images that supported this passion.  And did they ever!  We had topics that included a fascinating perspective of one American’s trip to Paris, another on 20 things the presenter would really like to talk more about with others, two sessions about the love for their pet dogs and about “My Stuff” which was a random collection of interesting images and photos which depicted different major events in the presenters life that she found on her hard drive.

The second thing I was struck by was the bravery of each of the presenters.  Unlike most of these type of PK events where each presenter plans for weeks or months, these people heard about the concept of Pecha Kucha for the first time at about 5:30pm and the PK sessions started at 8pm!  There was a request for volunteers and about ten people met with me at about 5:30 to get the basic instructions and then they went and pulled together pictures and images from wherever they could find them, pulled them together into some narrative order and we put them into an automatically timed PowerPoint presentation so that each image was up for 20 seconds before changing automatically to the next.

It was truly fascinating to listen and watch each of these presenters share their passion for these topics with a group of their peers and with this very demanding format.  I left totally in awe of the bravery each person had displayed in taking the risk to try this out for the first time, to step far out of their comfort zone and the energy, authenticity and passion which came through so loud and clear. 

Gavin, Glenn, Hans, Marcel, Beth Ann, A.J, Sue and Allison you were awesome snowflakes tonight! Thanks SO much for your energy and bravery tonight and sharing these things you are so passionate about.

Snowflake bank

October 26, 2008

The banking sector may be in a bit of a turmoil, but at least some of them try to apply the Snowflake Effect.

The caption goes: “Everybody is different… that is why we have something different for everybody.”

Pluralisation of Personalisation

October 26, 2008

I put up the previous posting “Is personalisation selfish”  to address one of the more common misunderstandings or concerns that I hear about the Snowflake Effect of mass personalization and I’d like to address another common misunderstanding in this posting; the perception that the Snowflake Effect and mass personalization only addresses individuals and not teams or groups of people.  I understand the confusion in that the word personalization would seem to imply that the focus is on just one person, however upon closer inspection I think you can see that the Snowflake Effect and the goal of getting things just right for each of us individually applies equally well when those individuals are members of a group, and that in another context a group is a single entity or “person” as well.

One of the reasons we are all unique snowflakes is that the collective set of characteristics and context that defines us at any given moment is a unique combination that never existed before and won’t again in the future.  Being part of member of a team or group is one of these attributes.  Similarly, groups and teams are themselves unique single entities as noted in the previous posting “Snowballs are Snowflakes too!” where I described one of the ways uniqueness is created to be:

“combining some number of unique elements to create a unique new assembly.  Putting a bunch of snowflakes together to form a snowball creates a unique new assembly.  A group of people, each of whom is a snowflake, creates a unique new assembly

Part of the power and potential of the Snowflake Effect and getting things “just right” is that these apply equally to snowflakes and snowballs.  Keep this larger context in mind as you thin more about the Snowflake Effect as an overarching conceptual model that can be applied to most everything and everyone.

Snowflake Your Next Car?

October 25, 2008

Over the years of speaking about mass customization and personalization I’ve often covered how this applies to manufacturing, and being a bit of a car nut I have often used the automotive industry for specific examples and scenarios.  However one form of manufacturing has been very challenging for achieving full mass personalization is parts which require molds to create thing like body panels, metal castings and fiberglass parts.  It was only a matter of time before these barriers fell and so it was with great delight that I recently read about some of the innovative thinking and work that the designers at BMW have been doing for automotive body panels.

Taking a refreshing new approach to design which they call GINA, Geometry and functions In n Adaptations, BMW Group recently unveiled the GINA Light Visionary prototype.  I’ll let Chris Bangle, Director of Design, BMW Group explain this new philosophy and show you the prototype in this video .

Personally I found the whole video to be mesmerizing to both my eyes and my mind as I watched the shapes of the car shift transform as the functionality of the body panels changed with such things as doors opening, seats emerging from beneath, aerodynamic shapes changing to match speed, and opening up a single slit to reveal the engine compartment or lights.

I hope the video and the thinking has a similar effect on you as you imagine these new vistas the Snowflake Effect is transporting us to.  As you are enjoying this mental joy ride, listen to the way Chris describes the bigger picture of what this change of perspective has lead to for his team and BMW.  I particularly liked his closing comments:

“Emotion is really the added value to this.  … achieve a higher emotional plane out of this”

“the level of humanistic content we can bring in …. GINA should be about the human in the loop, the human way of doing things.”

and my favorite of all:

“context over dogma, that’s it”

I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.  It is an inspiring example of the power of the Snowflake Effect and shows how the transformation from mass production to mass personalization is happening before our very eyes.

Redefining Perfection as Just Right?

October 24, 2008

The notion of “just right” is at the heart of the Snowflake Effect and I often point out that this is quite opposite from perfection or perhaps a more useful new definition of perfection.  Perfection as it is commonly understood, is about completeness and flawlessness.  The complete absence of any defects, errors, blemishes, or missing pieces.  For me I don’t even want such a state as i find the ‘defects’ to be not bugs but features and what gives people, places and  things their character. 

For example I like fine woodworking, making furniture, sculptures, and the like and it is the unusual grain patterns, knots, cracks and other such ‘defects” which give a piece of wood it’s unique character.  In fact I usually go the opposite direction and rather than cut these out i often make them a prominent feature of the piece i’m making.  I’ve fouund the same principle, the value o such ‘defects’ to be of similar value and essence of what gives people and places their character, their patina, their “snowflakeness”.

The pursuit of perfection seems to also foster inaction and has us waiting and living for tomorrow rather than in the moment.  As Voltaire is often credited with saying “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.” which is most often translated to “The perfect is the enemy of the good”.

For all of these reasons The Snowflake Effect is about getting things “just right” at the time and place of need.  I’ve often stated this along the lines of:

getting just the right “stuff” (what a wonderfully useful word!)

to just the right person

at just the right time

in just the right place

on just the right medium/device

in just the right way

…………… you get the idea!

Perfection in this context or “just right” is therefore extremely personal, subjective and in the eyes and mind of the individual. 

Who else by YOU would know when a song is just right? 

A wine is paired perfectly/just right with a cheese? 

A piece of content is just right at that moment? 

In this way, The Snowflake Effect is all about optimizing the situation, doing the best we can with what we have, living in the moment and continuous improvement.  What’s not to like?