[FoRK] A Theory of Products: Magic, Alchemy, Science... and Beyond?

Stephen Williams 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 
> involved.
> ...
> -- 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.
> -- 
> $0.02,
> jb
> * Me?  I guess I dig the idea.  Count me in.  But then, meatheads 
> never impress me much anyway. ;-)


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