Friday, June 24, 2005


Last week I was asked to submit a proposal for a new project. It involved inventing a new kind of web application; something that doesn't yet exist as far as I know. A lot of ideas had been floating around about how to think about the problem, what the UI should look like, etc. But none of them felt quite right. The people who asked for the proposal took a committee approach to thinking about the problem, and resolving disagreements between the committee members lead to compromised and mediocre ideas. I hadn't planned when I was going to write this proposal, but I happened to begin the day Wednesday with a big jolt of caffeine. I'm a fairly sporadic coffee/cola drinker, mostly because of what the stuff does to my sleep (or lack thereof). Nevertheless, I sometimes drink the drug anyway. Often it backfires and ruins my sleep, but I get some creative things done before that. I knew that writing this proposal was going to require inspiration. I needed to put away all the compromises and politics and just write something totally different that would be better than anybody expected. And that's what happened. Everyone loved it, even though nobody got what they asked for! This has me thinking about art, inspiration, and groups. Most companies, churches, and other organizations tend to make decisions by committees. An initial idea is presented (sometimes good, sometimes bad), and then the group rounds off the corners until everyone is more or less satisfied. It's a perfect recipe for making unremarkable things. It doesn't surprise me at all that most of the great inventions of the modern world were made by a single person, not a group. People can be great artists, but groups usually produce mediocrity Now I just need to figure out how to make great things more consistently, and without the caffeine!

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Looking Back at the TV-Industrial Complex

I used to love watching TV. As a kid, my brothers and I would run down our long driveway after being dropped off by the school bus. Getting home quickly was of utmost importance, because we didn't want to miss Spider-man, Thunder Cats, and all our favorite cartoons. As a teenager, it was Star Trek -- especially The Original Series and The Next Generation. In later years, it became the news, Report on Business TV (RoBTV), and CPAC -- the Canadian political channel, which is similar to C-SPAN in the US. I also grew up with a slight reading disability. It was so slight that it was never diagnosed -- I always got reasonably good grades, went to University, etc. But I never really read anything; reading was too much work for me. It was so much easier to turn on the TV and tune out, letting the onslaught of TV-industrial messages and 20th century advertising fill my open mind. It was only at about age 30 that I truly discovered books. I figured out that reading was actually fun if I concentrated on densely-written material (a la C.S. Lewis). Somehow, my slight reading disability wasn't a factor when I read books that covered advanced topics. Or maybe for the first time I wasn't completely bored. Regardless, for the last few years I've been making up for lost time. I'm even getting into "easier" business and marketing books. Three of my favorite books of the last few months are The ClueTrain Manifesto, All Marketers are Liars, and The Tipping Point. What these books have in common is that they offer a post-TV-industrial-complex way of looking at things. It's refreshing, and it's changing the way I look at the world. Anyway, I've now been TV-free for six months! Actually, that's not quite true... last time I was in the U.S. I switched on Fox News in the hotel room for a bit. Within 20 minutes of watching, they announced not one, but TWO terror threats. The first one was about somebody flying a Cessna into the no-fly zone around Washington D.C. A few minutes later, a passenger jet enroute from Europe to NYC had to be diverted to Boston because one of the passengers was a suspected terrorist. Those of us who don't watch TV know that such stories are simply designed to sell advertising. But it remains extremely scary how many people just take it all in. How can people not know any better!? And what kind of conscience do those advertisers have, who knowingly support such fear-mongering and rubbish? Will truth ever make a breakthrough? I'd say it's not a question of if, but when. The 21st century is profoundly different than the 20th, but most people don't know it yet. That's what this blog is all about.