Towards a Philosophy of Destruction

Somewhere in the back of our minds, we know that creation and growth must be accompanied by destruction and decline. We pay lip service to this essential dichotomy, or attempt to avoid it altogether, by using false-synthesis weasel words like renewal. I too have been guilty of this, as in this romanticized treatment of creative destruction (though I think that was a fine piece overall). Though I define innovation as “creative destruction” in the sense of Schumpeter, most of the time I spend thinking about this subject is devoted to creativity and growth. The reasons for this asymmetry are not hard to find. Destruction is often associated (and conflated) with evil. More troubling — it is often associated with pain, even if there is no evil intent involved. Finally, destruction — let’s loosely define it as any entropy-increasing process — is also more likely to happen naturally. It therefore requires less deliberate attention, and is easier to deny and ignore. Still, the subject of destruction does deserve, say, at least 1/5 the attention that creation commands. A thoughtful philosophy of destruction is essential to a rich life, at the very least because each of us must grapple with his/her own mortality. So here is a quick introduction to non-evil destruction, within the context of business and innovation. Before we begin, lodge this prototypical example of creative destruction, the game of Jenga, in your mind:

Jenga (Wikimedia Commons)

Jenga (Wikimedia Commons)

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Happy First Birthday, Ribbonfarm

Recently I took my usual mile-long walk to my neighborhood Starbucks, in suburban Rochester, something I often do when I need a physical rhythm to help tame runaway thoughts. I sat on the patio, sipping my drink, watching the sun set behind Bill Gray’s restaurant. Cars and Harley Davidsons (upstate New York is biker country) occasionally rumbled by. At some point, the scene quietly turned magical and surreal. The buzz of the other coffee drinkers’ conversations faded. The sunset acquired a sudden stillness. I took a picture with my cellphone.

Hard Road

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The Three-Leaps-of-Faith Rule

ABDs agonize far too much about finishing, and not enough about finishing right. A successful Ph.D. experience, as opposed to a merely completed one, is one that leaves you with self-assurance, confidence in your own abilities, and full of the creativity and energy required to go after more ambitious pursuits. A completed but unsuccessful Ph.D. experience, on the other hand, can leave you cynical, broken, and effectively ruined for further research work. Many, of course, acquire “successful” mindsets via postdoctoral experiences, but you should aim to get it right the first time.
I have a magic formula for a successful Ph.D. Through the course of your doctoral work, you must make at least 3 significant leap-of-faith decisions, that turn out to be right. Here is a picture of what a leap of faith looks like:

Leap of faith

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Roundup: March 21 – June 16

Here is a quick review of the 27 articles I posted between March 21 and June 16. I have given up trying to be regular, let alone frequent, with these roundups. And to think, when I started this blog about a year ago, I thought I’d be doing weekly roundups. Ha ha. So expect these roundups when you see them (at least until I can afford to hire a regular editor, or somebody volunteers)!

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Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff

Probably the best thing about Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies is its cover, by Stephani Finks (I hope I linked to the right profile on Facebook). The contents aren’t too shabby either — the book officially bumps Naked Conversations from the top position in the Marketing 2.0 category in my mildly-famous World 2.0 canon post. As you know if you are a regular, I am a sucker for a good metaphor, and when it is accompanied by visual imagery that gets it just right, and clearly conveys the high concept at hand, it’s a you had me at hello situation. Let’s deconstruct the ‘hello’ for a minute, before diving into the review.

Why does this cover work so beautifully for a book about tapping into social media?

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The Sage of Ribbonfarm #3

Sage 3

Have a gag to suggest? Send it in with a quick description of the visual, along with your punchline.

The Sage of Ribbonfarm #2

Sage 2

Have a gag to suggest? Send it in with a quick description of the visual, along with your punchline.

The Sage of Ribbonfarm #1

Sage 1

(Ribbonfarm is insanely proud to debut a weekly comic panel, inspired by R. K. Laxman’s style. You can contribute your own 1-panel gag ideas through the contact form. The only rule is that the gag must be generally about research and innovation, and that the black-curly-haired guy must be in every scene. Describe the visual and punchline in your suggestion).

Against Clouds

I don’t usually look to Slate for technology analysis, but I thought I’d blog this as an instance of Nicholas Carr’s ‘Big Switch’ arguments starting to percolate into, and find reactions in, non-techie media (though the author is a credible techie).
clipped from www.slate.com

I think there’s a market for free, Web-based apps that offer basic features. Knock yourselves out, dilettantes. For me, it’ll be years before Photoshop Express can become powerful enough to replace my desktop version, or before Google Docs gets me to uninstall Microsoft Office. I’m not sure I want to. One of the nice things about Word and Photoshop is that once I fire them up and start working, I can forget all about the Internet for a few hours. Sometimes, my PC and I just want to be alone.

  blog it

The NAE’s Grand Challenges vs. Mine

The US National Academy of Engineers recently released a list of ‘Grand Challenges.’ As you’ve no doubt noticed, this sort of top-down driving of research agendas has picked up pace recently. You also have the new X-prize for a 100mpg car, following on the heels of the one which Burt Rutan won for commercial space flight. A bunch of other X-prizes have also come into being. Google joined the fray with its Lunar X-prize. Consider also the DARPA Grand Challenges. Then of course, there are the Clay Millenium problems in mathematics. Something bothers me about this top-down agenda setting for research, and formal competition as a way to drive innovation. Let’s poke at it by comparing the NAE’s list with mine.

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