Piracy and progress

John Naughton’s blog is invariably a good read and he does a very good link. One very short entry that caught my eye recently was a link to a piece by Lawrence Lessig. This one turned out to be golden. It begins, “If piracy means using the creative property of others without their permission, then the history of the content industry is a history of piracy. Every important sector of big media today – film, music, radio, and cable TV – was born of a kind of piracy.” And, I suspect, the same would be true of the PC industry.
As I have argued before the growing dog in the manager attitude to intellectual property is based on a misrepresentation of how innovation and invention works. In an important sense we are all free riders on the work of generations before. Now changes in IP law seem to be enabling some, mainly large, corporations to lock in parts of this common heritage and to have become the main free riders. And it is important to remember that it is they and their shareholders who are the main beneficiaries from this shift, not the actual creators or the people who use what is created.
In many areas of life this probably doesn’t matter much. People will find their ways around the obstacles or simply ignore them. But in science it does matter. In an interesting review of the issues in the New York Review of Books, Richard Horton quotes the philosopher of science John Ziman who argues that:
“the erosion of traditional scientific values?such as the principles that research should be driven by curiosity and by the desire to advance scientific knowledge?has created a new “post-academic science,” a science that seeks an immediate economic payoff. Sustaining some form of non-instrumental science?which practically means not routinely applying the litmus test of wealth creation to every new idea or hypothesis?is important not only for inquiry into fundamental theoretical questions but also because society needs a model of independent critical rationality for the proper conduct of democratic debate, judicial inquiry, and consumer protection.”

What do we need to thrive?

“We need to have a fundamental shift in our understanding of the nature of value. Think about it on an individual level. The reason you want to make money is to be secure to live a certain way. Simply having wealth doesn’t produce that end. It doesn’t matter if you have a six-figure salary if you can’t breathe the air or drink the water. A better question to ask would be, What are the elements of a life worth living, and how can I assemble them? Not, How much do I earn? Likewise, in our approach to value, we need to think more about the end rather than the means. The larger question is, As a civilization, what do we need to thrive?”
“…social relationships are a powerful predictor of happiness?much more so than money is. Happy people have extensive social networks and good relationships with the people in those networks. What’s interesting to me is that while money is weakly and complexly correlated with happiness, and social relationships are strongly and simply correlated with happiness, most of us spend most of our time trying to be happy by pursuing wealth. Why?”
and finally a thought for anyone who makes interventions in the world that may change it:
“We should be careful to make a world we actually want to live in.”

The Designer as a Good Host

I have long felt that Ray and Charles Eames’s metaphor of the Designer as a Good Host was a good one and noticed that I hadn’t written about here. So I will make up for that now with this quote from the Power of Ten website:
“Since the Eameses felt the guest/host relationship was one of the most powerful relationships in the world, it is fitting that their most famous film, Powers of Ten, should center on a picnic. Charles and Ray argued that the guest/host relationship existed everywhere: in the tent of a nomadic herdsman, in the layout of a railroad station, in the way you are greeted by the circus. It also exists in design: how you make a chair or begin a film, and in all the subtle equations and gestures of welcoming in every day human existence.”
And this from an interview with Rolf Fehlbaum, CEO of Vitra in Fast Company:
“When I was a teenager, I served as an interpreter between Charles Eames and my father. Charles used to talk about the “guest-host relationship.” You, as a designer or a salesperson, are the host, and your customer is your guest. You have to think about how your guest will perceive whatever you’re offering him. You don’t try to please your guest because you want to sell him something. You try to please him because he’s your guest. You serve him because you respect him.”

Hidden value

“The problem with CRM, for example, is people assume that a company knows what to do to create value for customers. But I say no, this decision cannot be unilateral; it has to be collaborative. Consumers will not be seen as targets any longer, which is what CRM is about?how to target a single consumer with a database. Key now is how to engage them as equal problem-solvers so that we get value that is unique. And once you’ve come to this conclusion, the amazing thing is the opportunity for value creation to expand exponentially because now we have more people telling us what they want. We don’t have to second-guess and we don’t have to do shock demand forecasting by SKU. If you deliver experiences, you’re going to be producing on demand. That’s the idea.”
When I first read this passage from an interview with C.K. Prahalad & Venkat Ramaswamy promoting their new book, “The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value with Customers”, I found myself muttering in agreement. A few days later I find myself more sceptical.

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