Orchestrating Accidents

NOTE: I cross-posted this on my Cliotech blog.

I truly did “unplug” for a couple of days. I read the entire December 22, 2007 – January 4, 2008 issue of the Economist (a magazine that I really enjoy reading, but never have the time to fully digest). There were a few articles that really captured my attention:

  • the sexual practices of pandas in captivity (p. 71),
  • the hops crisis that is driving up the price of beer (p. 48),
  • the genetic mapping on pinot noir grapes that could lead to genetically modified wine (p. 16),
  • an intriguing and pragmatic look into the evolution of hunter-gathers (p. 129),
  • an investigation into the climatic implications of natural and man-made pollutants (p. 132),
  • and the right-brain reflections of Evan Williams, creator of Blogger and Twitter (p. 110).

It was the article about Evan Williams that really got me thinking . . . Discovery Education recently hosted Daniel Pink for an EdTechConnect webinar. Pink, the author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, asserts that the creative intelligences that are typically associated with the “right brain” are the essential attributes (design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning) that will be valued above the concrete sequential “industrial” intelligences that have governed the past few centuries. Evan Williams, who developed Blogger, Odeo, and Twitter, appears to epitomize those attributes. The article highlights three of the beliefs that guide Williams’ approach to business, innovation, and creativity:

  • genuinely new ideas are stumbled upon rather than sought out
  • new ideas are by definition hard to explain to others, because words can only express what is already known
  • good ideas seem obvious in retrospect

Knowing those driving beliefs, I suppose it is, well, obvious what Williams would name his company – Obvious Corporation. Twitter is currently Obvious’ flagship product. You can subscribe to the company blog (hosted on Blogger – obviously) to stay updated with their new initiatives. The birth of Obvious Corp. is a pretty interesting read.

What Williams is attempted to affect within his new company are those creative accidents that produce new and useful products and applications. Obviously, it is a challenge to orchestrate accidents . . . but, perhaps, it is not impossible. Williams describes this frustration as “as itch that we scratch and that becomes the ‘thing’.” One way that Williams continues to inspire his colleagues is by setting “radical constraints” for new projects. For example, asking the question “what can be taken away to create something new?” The article aptly points out that Twitter has one such built-in constraint, 140 character posts. Just look at the creativity and creation that has occurred through that collaborative medium . . .

So, what do I make of all of this?

I think that Williams is one of the high-profile right-brainers who will rule the future. If one reflects on the open-source revolution that has characterized the evolution of Web 2.0, it reasons that the path of the Internet is being paved by similar right-brainers whose creative accidents continue to produce valuable and, in some cases, indispensable applications and products. The days of the think-tank programmers who produce highly-guarded code are over.

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