Tag Archives: hippie

geek dictator, or hippie engineer?

we live in a world currently driven by two very different models of innovation – what you could describe as the Apple model, or the Google model. both are incredibly suited, in different ways, for the demands of a technologically convergent digital world.

apple or google? eventually, you may have to choose a side...?

the Apple model is orchestrated brilliantly by steve jobs. its cornerstone is fiercely centralised creativity, symbolised by the keynote speech. it has a small number of incredibly desirable, globally uniform, visually iconic products, able to command a value far beyond their basic utility. through the potential scale of modern distribution, marketing and advocacy, Apple has been able to turn a very small number of beautifully designed objects into incredible business value.

what will he say? what will he say? oh, a slightly smaller one? wow, where do I queue?

the Google model may have been founded by the wizardry of Larry and Sergei, but its driving force of innovation is entirely decentralised. across the world, crews of very differently skilled programmers and engineers collaborate to develop and optimise its products and services. every day, you almost certainly participate in optimising Google’s product for them, just by searching for stuff. through the potential scale of modern diffusion of control, data, and participation, Google has been able to turn the behaviour of millions of information seekers into incredible business value.

it is more difficult to find a compelling image of google...i could probably have done better than this

people like google. but people love apple. partly this is because apple products are shiny, tactile, look good in your handbag. but i think it is partly because people are still instinctively drawn towards the drama of steve jobs and the keynote, rather than hundreds of visionary engineers around the world collaborating, cross-fertilising and optimising to create forms of information management that are transforming the world.

applying this to another field – there are two things this week that have, more than anything else, been occupying the more interesting areas of my mind.

firstly, i have spent a lot of time thinking about ‘the social network’ – a film that, thanks to having a small child and busy evenings, i actually haven’t yet seen – but that i have spent lots of time talking about (particularly with francesca of Jumptank), reading about and thinking about. at the heart of it sits the enigmatic, semi-horrifying, era-defining character of ‘Zuck’ – the latest in a long line of socially awkward geeks who have used unusual technical expertise and incredibly singular vision of the world to create totally new social and economic models.

no matter what your brain tells you, you want to be them. you may even already think you are.

secondly, i have spent a fair amount of time thinking about MIT. not least because of trishan’s triumphant progress in the 100k with the wonderful http://www.mycareapps.com, but also because i am fascinated by their Media Lab institution and the way that they work. what fascinates me about the Media Lab is seeing the collision of totally different skill sets – textile makers with electronics experts, doctors with technologists – collaborating to create the future. and the totally intrinsic, unselfish joy that motivates the people who work there.

MIT media lab. when i went there, it really made me sad to leave.

again, the world stands in shock and awe at the feet of the Zuck, inventor of ‘the Facebook’. at the same time, the incredible, world-changing efforts of the design-focused collaborators of MIT and the world’s top scientists and engineers remain in relative obscurity.

ok, well, that’s entertainment. films about unique individuals tend to be more dramatic than films about successfully operating groups. there are, lest we forget ‘no status of committees’ (apart from rodin’s burghers of calais.) though i challenge you to find a statue of a living, happy, well-adjusted individual.

a statue of a committee. the exception that proves the rule.

where is this taking me? well, a summary of my recent experiences are beginning to suggest to me that these analogies we apply to ourselves, thinking about ourselves as characters in movies, or as potentially subjects of monumental sculpture, are part of a rather unhealthy perspective on health, success and happiness.

to our stock of romantic anti-heroes, the gangsters and con-men, we have added a new type – the geek dictator, the strange spawn of the culture of alienation and flowering of personal computing in the 1980s. these are the new collossi that bestride the world. in our minds (and theirs) they are indivisible from superheroes…weaklings with a dark side, ruling the world by night.

zuck, in his own mind, probably

and yet at the same time, what is also happening around us is the endless proliferation of incredible works of science, engineering and culture created by a different kind of creator…one that fuses a somewhat hippy ethic with a collaboration and fusion of disciplines that is very much 21st century.

we might not want to see movies about these guys, but when we are thinking about the things that we want to create and the things that we want to achieve, these guys might provide a better example for us to internalise and follow. the concept of embracing and getting the most out of differences between people, of leading by giving up power, of interacting rather than delegating or obeying, may lead us not only to happier lives, but to more successful ones, filled with great discoveries and innovation.

in this context, the psychology of power politics gives way to an instinct towards partnership. towards the enthusiastic non-ownership of ideas. and that is when great stuff like organising the world’s information, or creating technology that transforms the world’s ability to access healthcare, or even just creating great, sustainable businesses, really comes to life.

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