[FoRK] A Theory of Products: Magic, Alchemy, Science... and Beyond?
sdw at lig.net
Fri Feb 5 18:11:21 PST 2010
Excellent conceptual map, thanks. In my own experience with various
people, including a few years interacting with the product manager for
all of AOL (who had no vision), I learned that there is a huge
difference in the ability to A) be creative in a variety of senses and
B) be visionary. I.e. to be able to construct a future where a product
exists and other aspects of reality have evolved and then to imagine a
wide variety of responses by a range of people. Having vision ability,
with out-of-the-box creativity, along with deep knowledge in as many
areas as possible is the basis of being a Magician. These capabilities
are also important for everyone else described.
Jeff Bone wrote:
> -- The Magicians --
> In The Beginning we had product magicians. Their product "magic" was
> / is a process primarily of introspection; they reflect upon their
> own attitudes about, uses of, and desires for certain technologies
> and, from this reflection, can (or attempt to) extrapolate the needs
> or desires of others and synthesize product definitions accordingly.
> The result is something equally magical: a "vision." It is gestalt,
> genius, artistry. It is aesthetic, soft, egoistic, passionate. The
> process is highly subjective, intuition driven, and qualitative ---
> and success or failure relies entirely upon the individual magician's
> ability to execute this mysterious, internal, creative / synthetic /
> syncretic process that they themselves probably cannot articulate,
> much less teach others. Success or failure also requires the ability
> of the magician to manage the efforts --- often dictatorially --- of
> others in actually bringing the product to fruition while maintaining
> the integrity of the original "vision."
Isn't this where the fun is?
Even in the regimes below, you won't typically hill climb out of any
serious local minima without at least some benefit from a Magician.
Google gets this at least by buying companies and giving people a lot of
> -- The Alchemists --
> The product alchemists are product magicians that would be product
> scientists, if merely they understood how. They attempt to apply
> various external, reproducible, objective laws, observations,
> measurements, methods, and so forth to the product creation process in
> order to achieve the optimal result. However, there's still a kind of
> animistic, ad hoc, magical quality to the effort. They tend to
> reflect on the objects / artifacts themselves, their abstract purpose
> and uses (use cases, etc.) and subjective musings about how
> individuals might use any given artifact with any given configuration
> of properties in some context to some end. The methods used tend to
> be a mix of qualitative and quantitative. The alchemists have the
> right goal in mind, but generally not the right tools (i.e.,
> developed-enough models, relying instead on ratios of bilious and
> phlegmatic humors) or methods (obsessive focus on quantitative means
> of taking actual input data and turning it into objective meaning.)
> The input is too selective, the data sets too small, the processes too
> ad hoc, the experiments too uncontrolled, and the objects of
> consideration too abstract and animistic to really call what they do
> science. To a large extent the success or failure of the effort still
> devolves to the quality of the intuition of the individual alchemists
> -- The Scientists ---
> There won't be any.
> -- The Post-Scientists / The Empiricists ---
> There won't be any science of product, no grand unified theory of
> product creation / innovation / marketing --- not because it's
> impossible (though it might be) but because we're going to leap right
> past that to something fuzzier, spookier, more massive, more
> inscrutable, more data-driven, colder and yet simultaneously "wetter"
> and more "biological" --- and more effective. Bigger, yet less
> substantial; ectoplasmic. Something much... Google-ier. Cf. "The
> Unreasonable Effectiveness of Data," "The Google Way of Science,"
> "Science Without Theory," etc.
> The basic idea here is: stop guessing, stop "modeling," stop
> extrapolating, stop forecasting, stop focus grouping, stop asking...
> and just measure and evolve. Measure early, measure often, measure
> always, measure everything, measure a *whole lot.* Let the numbers
> guide the decisions about what to build, how to build it, when to
> build it, *why* to build it. What color should that background be?
> Try them all and measure it. Should I build X, Y, or Z? Build them
> all, see which works best, discard the rest. Should that button be
> here or there? Let the (very large) masses decide.
This actually applies to what I'm doing. I was already planning a
folksomy-like approach. This however has inspired me to go way beyond.
> --- Beyond-the-Beyond ---
> For now, humans remain in the loop, the analysts and actors, human
> judgments and proactivity still essential to acts of invention, to the
> product-conceiving and product-making creative process. That won't
> always be the case. The next meta-level up the stack is automating
> away that part of the process, closing the loop entirely, humans
> merely as reactive agents and input signals, the population as a whole
> an experimental testbed on which the process operates. Quo bono? Us,
> hopefully. But not entirely certainly, and perhaps not forever...
> At the end of the line, we will find ourselves back to magic. Clarke
> was right, of course; "any sufficiently advanced technology..." When
> the technology in question is the meta-technology of technology
> creation, and when you've moved beyond theory to pure, inscrutable,
> dense, automatically-derived, data-driven mathematical models,
> predictions, and processes... the creative process is out of our
> hands, becomes recursive... the exclusive domain of focused (if
> global, hopefully friendly (*cough*)) optimizers, optimizing away,
> refining, perfecting, chiseling away at product-space oh-so-efficiently.
Should be fun.
> And so we have a world of agents and daemons roaming invisibly through
> virtual planes that intersect the desert of the real at select
> touch-points, a whole bestiarum vocabulum of artificial, narrow beings
> so eager to please: barely-aware fabs and repraps and reality
> printers, vision-projectors and consensus hallucinator-facilitators,
> stock feed logisticians, meta-compilers, automatic user interface
> builders and mass customizers, usage statisticians and reality miners,
> attention heat-mappers and points-of-sale streamers, all manner of
> other localizers and trackers, transaction and other pattern
> recognizers, time-on-page and other attention-attenders,
> similarity-clusterers and preference-predictors, action-modality
> specialists and subculture classifiers and fashion advisors and
> memetic imagineers, cluestream-sniffers and cluehounds and sensor-node
> watchers, remembrance agents and interest detectors, gaze gazers and
> meta-suggestive sell suggesters, and so on... more attention and
> effort and urgent need-to-please lavished instantaneously yet
> continually on each individual than the sum of human attention and
> effort throughout history...
Nice. Endlessly recursive spin. Let's hope they don't start arguing
> A swarm of cold intelligences operating for and on us, navigating,
> searching silently and tirelessly across vast multi-dimensional
> fitness landscapes of shimmery, roiling, chaotic, noisy, raw, rich,
> pure data; mining it, sifting it, finding, reminding, refining,
> synthesizing... competing, negotiating, cooperating, mutating,
> replicating, mating, creating, minimizing the experimental error,
> "understanding" their human experimental subjects by reduction to pure
> math.. Climbing that hill... dancing some weird and intricate dance
> of creative destruction and destructive creation... Simultaneously
> the most personalized, customized, bespoke user experience for each
> individual, a cornucopia of products, a consumer's Elysium... a
> reality tailored perfectly and obsessively to each person, yet not
> lovingly; so impersonal, so cold, too... perfect. Flawless.
> Nothing objectionable, nothing out of place, no surprises - ever
> (except when you want one and don't know it. They do.)
> And the whole thing certainly begins to look like magic. Spooky,
> virtual, cold, alien magic.
> "Wonderful?" Certainly, if literally. Desirable? Arguable.*
> Inevitable? Probably.
> * Me? I guess I dig the idea. Count me in. But then, meatheads
> never impress me much anyway. ;-)
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