Archive for the ‘Uniqueness’ Category

Bankruptcy of Purse of Bankruptcy of Life?

January 7, 2009


SterlingHayden-Wanderer During some of my reading over the holiday I ran across the following quote of actor, author and fellow sailor, Sterling Hayden from his autobiography Wanderer.  It really resonated and stuck with me.  Partly because I am a “wanderer of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in” myself, and partly because it matched many of my sentiments as I reflected upon 2008.  I was struck by how especially relevant these observations are right now so I wanted to share them with you.


To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen, who play with their boats at sea-"cruising," it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.

"I’ve always wanted to sail the South Seas, but I can’t afford it." What these men can’t afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of "security." And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the routine of routine – and before we know it our lives are gone.

What does a man need – really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in – and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That’s all – in the material sense. And we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention from the sheer idiocy of the charade.

The years thunder by. The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.

Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?

                                              Sterling Hayden  1916-1986

One of the many benefits of being a snowflake is that if you truly practice being a unique individual I think you will get closer and closer to finding out what you really need and much more clearly seeing the “idiocy of the charade” that comes from conforming, fitting in, being “average” and like the rest. All very unsnowflake like!

So as we wander into 2009 it is my fondest hope that we all work harder and succeed at bringing out the unique snowflake in all of us and by so doing, make the world a much richer world for all of us to live in.


Journeys are Tough to Copy

December 10, 2008

One more suggestion on the topic of being copied and how to avoid it by being unique, like a snowflake.  Think of yourself, your work, your life as a journey rather than a destination.  A bit cliché perhaps but quite relevant here in that it is pretty difficult to copy something that is constantly changing and moving.

In the case of individuals such as ourselves, or for organizations, businesses, etc. what I think this means is that you are constantly finding new ways of pursuing you passion, your fundamental value proposition.  We certainly do this by developing solutions to problems we are working on, which are the “destinations” in this case.  These are good things, accomplishments and valuable.  However they will almost certainly want to have a finite time limit to them simply because the conditions and context that make these solutions “just right” will be changing and therefore so too do the solutions need to change. 

Furthermore it is these solutions or destinations which are the easiest to copy and so if they are constantly changing or going away, the concern for copying goes away as well.  Similarly, while these solutions are the elements of value at any given time, the true value proposition we have to offer is the steady supply of such solutions, which is the “journey” in this case.

Because it is largely people we are discussing being “copied” here, the only things others could really copy are the specific outputs  or “content” from you; captured versions of your writings, illustrations, audio, video, photos, etc.  Whereas your value is that you are constantly coming up with more of this unique output, that is increasingly relevant, increasingly new, different and valuable.  Hence it is YOU and the journey you are on which is the real value to others and this is impossible to copy.

I’ve always been a “journey person” so perhaps I’m overly biased or only see things this way?  What are your experiences?

Good Luck Trying to Copy a Snowflake!

December 5, 2008

In a previous posting I had mentioned a favorite quote from Jerry Garcia that;

“You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.”

I brought this up in a recent conversation with a business colleague in a discussion about his concerns that others were trying to compete or eliminate him by copying what he was doing.  This lead to a long conversation about how to not only be competitive but also to be true to yourself and a great frustration to those who may want to copy your work.  He said he found it to be extremely valuable and clarifying for him and so I thought I’d share the basic idea with you here.

The great thing about using the Snowflake Effect to guide your work is that you focus on being just what Jerry was referring to, the only one who does what you do.  This is NOT about being different for the sake of being different, this is about being true to yourself, your calling, your passion.  If you do that, you’ll be unique by design and essentially impossible to copy because your pursuit of your passion and getting to “just right” is a constantly evolving and changing process.

Something I’ve learned in practicing this for most of my life is that to you it all seems like a continuum and in that context it seems “the same” and there is not much change in that you are still following the same dreams, visions and values you always have.  However to everyone else, you will often be seen as constantly changing because you are trying many different things and different paths towards that end state you have in mind. 

In my past work on what I called “perfecting the irrelevant” I noted how it seems to be very common for people, organizations and business to confuse their actions, that which they do, with their value proposition, the true and lasting value of your actions.  I often cite examples such the case of ice delivery companies, none of which made it into the refrigeration business because they thought they were in the ice delivery business (what they actually did, their actions) when in fact they were in the “keeping things cold” or food preservation business. (their value proposition)  The trick is to have clarity and understanding of what your true value proposition is, as a person, and organization, or business and then be as innovative and creative as possible in ways to deliver on that value proposition.  Done successfully you are simultaneously very focused yet to most others you seem to be constantly changing and thus very difficult to copy.

Most recently Erik Duval, my favorite snowflake of all, has experienced an intriguing new form of “flattery” where someone has been copying his blog postings by literally cut and pasting them with no reference to their original source and thus appearing to be the content of this other blogger.  Unfortunately not a rare occurrence these days and very easy to do.  However I think we are now in an era where there is an inverse correlation of ease of copying with value.  In Erik’s case, ALL this other blogger is able to do is copy some of Erik’s content.  He certainly can’t copy Erik!  Erik is a snowflake and just about everything he does is similarly unique and different, yet very focused on a consistent vision and value proposition of (my interpretation only) assisting the world to be a better place through faster, better, deeper, learning. 

Good luck trying to copy that!  You might just as well try to copy an actual snowflake.

One gets MUCH Bigger!

November 21, 2008

I continue to find great fascination with the notion that “one is the biggest number” and with the thinking and writing of Kevin Kelly, and I believe that most of you share a similar interest in both as well.

Kevin has been writing and speaking for some time about his observations on the similarity between biology and technology and how as he puts it “technology is evolving to the point where it can be thought of as the 7th kingdom of life.”

When I was recently speaking with Kevin we discovered that we are both often use the “talk to think” model when giving presentations.  Thanks to TED Talks (Technology Entertainment Design) you can watch Kevin as he “thinks out loud” in this TED Talk from last year (Jan 2007) and see an excellent example of the power of inverted thinking, asking interesting questions and looking at things from different perspectives.  I particularly enjoyed how Kevin ponders the question “what does technology want?” and tried to look at it from technology’s view of the world.

These are very thoughtful ideas and Kevin is as prolific as every about them so I can heartily recommend that you spend some of your very valuable time watching this video and/or reading some of his writings on these and related topics such as this version on “The Seventh Kingdom” from his Technium writings.

You can also read Kevin’s views on how the combined networking of technology is creating a singular “computer” and covering the planet with its own “nervous system in his Technium article on “Evidence of a Global SuperOrganism” and his article from July 2008 Wired magazine “The Planetary Computer” where he comments:

“I suspect, but cannot prove, the seeds of progress lie not in increasing numbers of human minds, or artificial minds, or more powerful individual minds, but in the emergence of a more complex group mind, made of fewer humans, many more machines, and a new way of thinking.”

For me, this perspective on technology and our relationship with it are all part of the “perfect storm” that is emerging and enabling the Snowflake Effect to not only be possible but probable.  After you’ve spent some time considering these points of view please let me know your reactions and if you too see a future predominated by a snowstorm of mass personalization and design for uniqueness.

Snowflake Based New Economy?

November 7, 2008

Can’t help wondering (hoping?) if the current downturn in the overall global economy will provide the opportunity and perhaps the imperative to make some substantial changes in our approach to designing and producing products an services?  The one I’m thinking about the most of course is the Snowflake Effect permeating design such that the default design assumption is creating unique products and services which are just the right for each unique person and situation.

This transformation from a model of mass production to one of mass personalization will require a complete new rethinking of many of our fundamental assumptions, processes and infrastructure.  There are other examples in history of such transformations taking place such as the change to containers in the shipping industry, however in all these examples this degree of complete change required an almost “perfect storm” of conditions occurring at about the same time to create the imperative for such a wholesale change.  What can we learn from these previous examples?

Will the current collapse of the global economy combined with other global conditions and an  increased focus on uniqueness, be what it takes to create a new economy based on going after meeting the unique needs of billions of markets of one? 

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.

Which is Stronger: Urge to Conform or Urge to be a Snowflake?

October 23, 2008

Gregory Berns has a new book out from Harvard Business Press called “Iconclast: A neurosurgeon reveals how to think differently" and the abstract reads:

“No organization can survive without iconoclasts — innovators who single-handedly upturn conventional wisdom and manage to achieve what so many others deem impossible. Though indispensable, true iconoclasts are few and far between. In Iconoclast, neuroscientist Gregory Berns explains why. He explores the constraints the human brain places on innovative thinking, including fear of failure, the urge to conform, and the tendency to interpret sensory information in familiar ways. Through vivid accounts of successful innovators ranging from glass artist Dale Chihuly to physicist Richard Feynman to country/rock trio the Dixie Chicks, Berns reveals the inner workings of the iconoclast’s mind with remarkable clarity. “

So this has me pondering the question I put in the title, is our urge to blend in, be “normal”, conform, etc. stronger than our urge to be different, unique and snowflakes?  For me I’ve always felt that being called “normal” is about the biggest insult I can imagine.  Fortunately for me I’ve never been so insulted! <g>

Worthy of more pondering and some good fodder for this week’s TWIST (This Week in Snowflake Talk) with Erik and I perhaps?

Which one wins the tug of war with you more often:  the urge to conform or to be a Snowflake?

Worth Your While

As I was pondering this I came across this recent blog post on Brain Based Biz called Your Brain’s Lazy – Jolt It! by Robyn McMaster.  She also references Berns’ Iconoclast book and wanted to pass it on to you as being well worth your time to read.  Robyn notes about Iconoclast:

“Good news is that you too, have potential to be an inventor! "In order to think creatively," according to Gregory Berns, who recently published, Iconoclast, "you must develop new neural pathways and break out of the cycle of experience-dependent categorization." He adds, you can jolt your brain to energize new feats by surprising it with new information or an unfamiliar environment.”

Unique: a Means NOT an End

October 18, 2008



How could I resist posting this one!  And while humorous the point is one worth noting that uniqueness, while essential to the Snowflake Effect is not sufficient by itself nor an end state.  Uniqueness is common attribute of designing for mass personalization but the goal is to create solutions that are just right for each individual situation.  Hence Snowflake success will be measured by how well it matches the uniqueness of the situation, not how unique the solution itself is.

Conversely it is also worth noting that the other end of the spectrum, sameness, similarity, commonality, etc. are also attributes which will continue to be of value and part of creating just right solutions. 

Snowballs are Snowflakes too!

October 16, 2008

Getting to uniqueness is interesting in that it can be achieved in several ways:

  • combining some number of previously existing common (non unique) elements to create a unique new assembly.  Snowflakes themselves are created this way from common atoms and molecules in a crystalline form.  A song is a unique combination of common notes for example.


  • 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.

Maybe I just find everything interesting and I’ve got snowflakes on the brain, (or a snowflake for a brain!) but I find these simple “Snowflake Laws” to be very useful and important to understand.

Are there other ways to create uniqueness or snowflakes?