"pattern cognition" (PSFK presentation)


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This is the presentation I made at the PSFK conference in New York City, March 27, 2008.

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"pattern cognition" (PSFK presentation)

  1. 2. seeing things <ul><li>we’re in the business of “seeing things” </li></ul><ul><li>a symptom for some people </li></ul><ul><li>a business model for the rest of us </li></ul><ul><li>our clients depend on seeing things early and clearly, on grasping new patterns </li></ul><ul><li>pattern: product idea, campaign theme, BFI, innovation, positioning strategy, new media play </li></ul><ul><li>it wasn’t there naturally at MIT </li></ul><ul><li>so I started wondering what are the mechanics? </li></ul><ul><li>are there patterns to pattern recognition? </li></ul>
  2. 3. recognition becomes cognition <ul><li>It’s not pattern recognition, exactly </li></ul><ul><li>it’s not an act of identification </li></ul><ul><li>oh, there’s a pattern </li></ul><ul><li>or this is an example of that </li></ul><ul><li>it’s finding a match between </li></ul><ul><ul><li>something swirling in the client’s world </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>something swirling in our heads </li></ul></ul><ul><li>and this is a matter of making patterns </li></ul><ul><li>cognitioning them (apologies to Elvis Presley) </li></ul>
  3. 4. two categories of useful patterns in our heads <ul><li>1. prefabricated ideas </li></ul><ul><ul><li>all that reading in college and since </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>patterns at the ready </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>this is kind of like pattern recognition </li></ul></ul><ul><li>2. purpose build, custom made </li></ul><ul><ul><li>ideas we make on our own </li></ul></ul>
  4. 5. intellectual appliances <ul><li>these patterns are a little like blenders or toasters </li></ul><ul><li>they are created to solve a particular problem simply and well </li></ul><ul><li>we surround these ideas with all kinds of worshipful regard and a certain amount of hocus pocus </li></ul><ul><li>better to think of them as practical devices </li></ul>
  5. 6. 1. prefabricated patterns <ul><li>Oh, that’s like kinda like … </li></ul><ul><li>what Simmel says about social imitation </li></ul><ul><li>Freud on the “preconscious stream” </li></ul><ul><li>that’s very Buffy or Simpson’s </li></ul><ul><li>that’s very Burton or Jarmusch </li></ul><ul><li>getting a fix on something </li></ul><ul><li>it is a kind of bagging and tagging </li></ul><ul><li>it helps us think </li></ul><ul><li>take an evanescent idea and give it shape and form </li></ul><ul><li>an intellectual appliance (like a toaster) </li></ul>
  6. 7. a case in point <ul><li>yesterday NFL threatened to ban long hair </li></ul><ul><li>a violation of personal freedom </li></ul><ul><li>football players as Roman gladiators </li></ul><ul><li>controlled until sacrificed to owner greed </li></ul><ul><li>but if you use Daniel Bell’s distinction between instrumental and expressive individualism, a more elegant argument emerges </li></ul><ul><li>one cannot be allowed to extinguish the other </li></ul><ul><li>the issue leaps up when seen through this lens </li></ul>
  7. 8. 10 ideas <ul><li>1. Kauffman on messiness as a good thing </li></ul><ul><li>2. Goffman on public life as a stage </li></ul><ul><li>3. Brooks on multiplicity in social life (Bobos) </li></ul><ul><li>4. Blue Oceans </li></ul><ul><li>5. Shirky and emergent categories </li></ul><ul><li>6. Granovetter and strength of weak ties </li></ul><ul><li>7. Surowiecki and wisdom of crowds </li></ul><ul><li>8. Levitt: what business are we in </li></ul><ul><li>9. David Weinberger and the new structure: small pieces loosely joined </li></ul><ul><li>10. X on porousness </li></ul>
  8. 9. 2. purpose built, custom made patterns <ul><li>starts with noticing </li></ul><ul><li>my Sahlinsian instruction </li></ul><ul><li>an alert had sounded in his head </li></ul><ul><li>full alert, what was this? </li></ul><ul><li>the point is not to be glib </li></ul><ul><li>noticing as a brute activity </li></ul><ul><li>do it often and easily </li></ul><ul><li>(PSFK every morning) </li></ul>
  9. 10. our heads teeming <ul><li>things we notice </li></ul><ul><li>things we’ve heard </li></ul><ul><li>things we’ve read </li></ul><ul><li>the way the client likes to think about things </li></ul><ul><li>all swimming about </li></ul><ul><li>not consciously entertained </li></ul><ul><li>but quick to manifest </li></ul><ul><li>there is a process at work of which we are unaware </li></ul>
  10. 11. An example <ul><li>I was talking to Teri Rogers </li></ul><ul><li>and a couple of half-patterns emerged and rushed together </li></ul><ul><li>1. Just-in-time </li></ul><ul><li>2. Just-enough </li></ul><ul><li>These are really still in the works </li></ul><ul><li>I am doing pattern cognition “under glass” </li></ul>
  11. 12. possible pattern 1: just-in-time <ul><li>the world is more responsive </li></ul><ul><li>the things I need to get the job done are there at hand </li></ul><ul><li>some simple improvements: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>messages by SMS or email </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>packages for FedEx </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>airline tickets on line, tickets produced at airport </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>gmaps on your iphone as you step out of the subway </li></ul></ul><ul><li>the concierge effect, invisible order </li></ul><ul><li>everything at hand just as and when we need it </li></ul><ul><li>the term is from Taiichi Ohno , Toyota car assembly plants, early 1970s </li></ul><ul><li>we use it more broadly as a way of thinking about how our social, commercial, urban worlds reengineered and made available </li></ul>
  12. 13. possible pattern 1: just-in-time in design <ul><li>more metaphorically this time </li></ul><ul><li>objects that comes with intelligence built in </li></ul><ul><li>so that the intelligence of the designer leaves the object, passes into my hand, runs up my arm, enters my brain, and becomes an idea, </li></ul><ul><li>1) I know how to operate this thing! </li></ul><ul><li>2) I must be a genius! </li></ul><ul><li>well, no, it’s the object that’s a genius </li></ul><ul><li>it delivers what I need to know about the object at the very moment I need to operate the object </li></ul>
  13. 14. possible pattern 1: is this something or is it nothing <ul><li>the Letterman question </li></ul><ul><li>am I “on to something”? </li></ul><ul><li>and if I am on to something, am I talking about it in the right way, with the right tag </li></ul><ul><li>is this “just in time” or something else </li></ul><ul><li>if it isn’t this, then what? </li></ul>
  14. 15. possible pattern 2: just enough <ul><li>Yale economist Barry Nalebuff: Honest Tea </li></ul><ul><li>Sugar, like most goods, has a declining marginal utility. One teaspoon takes away tea’s bitterness. Another adds a nice sweetness. That’s where we stop. </li></ul><ul><li>a new model of consumption? </li></ul><ul><li>as opposed to the “Denny’s model”: all you eat and at least 3000 calories more </li></ul><ul><li>1950s: America the bountiful, land of plenty </li></ul><ul><li>every American duty-bound to consume heroic quantities of sugar, salt, fat, nicotine, alcohol, sun (to say nothing of carbon) </li></ul><ul><li>all the world is a resort culture </li></ul><ul><li>we have been scaling this back </li></ul><ul><li>but perhaps now we have an idea for scaling this back </li></ul><ul><li>rework the fundamental terms of the bargain? </li></ul>
  15. 16. the patterning process <ul><li>we are always coming across things like Honest Tea </li></ul><ul><li>PSFK every morning, a stream of Ohs! </li></ul><ul><li>we want to keep all of them as candidates, keep all of them in play, and see if confirmation is forthcoming </li></ul><ul><li>a couple of days ago: </li></ul><ul><li>Newman’s Own Sweet Enough cereal </li></ul><ul><li>Oh becomes Ok </li></ul><ul><li>this pattern is forming </li></ul>
  16. 17. ideas cohabiting in your head <ul><li>so, for most of us, the ordinary world finds our heads teeming with possible meanings </li></ul><ul><li>and in this case, in my conversation with Teri, while talking about real estate, these two ideas fell hopelessly in love </li></ul><ul><li>teeming becomes teaming </li></ul><ul><li>they leapt up and said “we belong together” </li></ul><ul><li>just-in-time and just-enough together forever? </li></ul>
  17. 18. But do they (belong together)? <ul><li>well, kinda, sorta, maybe, if you squint your eyes and tilt your head, sure </li></ul><ul><li>now the task is to find the pattern that brings these ideas together </li></ul>
  18. 19. what do we call this and what happens when we do? <ul><li>The “engineering” option: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>calibration, engineering, delicate mechanics </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Tokyo and trains that arrive on time </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>a clockwork, wheels within wheels, the Clockwork American?i </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Escher “the world inventing itself” option: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>escalators, things that emerge just as you need them to </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The Game Space option </li></ul><ul><ul><li>that game renders to the right when we go right, dream time, a new time-space thingy </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Synchronicity option </li></ul><ul><ul><li>too badly damaged by that Police song? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>a new bargain in the consumer society? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>we get more as we take less </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>we are enabled, not indulged </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Argh: none of these is quite right </li></ul>
  19. 20. the new bargain of the digital age <ul><li>I like this last one, imperfect as it is </li></ul><ul><li>it invites us to rethink the consumer proposition globally, expansively </li></ul><ul><li>look, we can say, consumers are no longer consumers </li></ul><ul><li>the point of goods and services is not to indulge the consumer, but to enable them </li></ul><ul><li>we are getting more instrumentality, even as we use less stuff </li></ul><ul><li>we are becoming more vaporous, more virtual, less weighty, less punishing to the planet </li></ul><ul><li>less voracious and more active </li></ul><ul><li>notice that this still might not be an idea </li></ul><ul><li>and certainly I haven’t yet found the right tag </li></ul><ul><li>my hope is that somewhere out there is a client someday will go, “right, I could use that” </li></ul>
  20. 21. the new urgency <ul><li>5 reasons for better pattern cognition </li></ul><ul><li>1. the sheer ferocity of change </li></ul><ul><li>2. clients are all in the innovation game </li></ul><ul><li>3. they need more ideas more quickly </li></ul><ul><li>4. “black box” creativity in deep disrepute </li></ul><ul><li>5. we have made pattern cognition a private activity, we do not share our intellectual appliances with enthusiasm </li></ul>
  21. 22. next steps <ul><li>pattern cognition is a private activity </li></ul><ul><li>even when conducted in a “brain storm” </li></ul><ul><li>the patterns at work in our heads often remain proprietary software </li></ul><ul><li>we never reveal the code </li></ul><ul><li>it is time for us to think more explicit about the patterns we use to find patterns </li></ul><ul><li>it’s time for us to share these patterns </li></ul>
  22. 23. Pattern cognition in summary: 1. applying prefabricated patterns <ul><li>Daniel Bell as a case in point </li></ul><ul><li>our parents are thrilled, liberal arts education vindicated </li></ul><ul><li>by this time, you would think we would be better at this </li></ul><ul><li>time to break with the business press model </li></ul><ul><li>almost uniformly hopeless </li></ul><ul><li>too long, clumsy, inelegant and insufficiently illuminating </li></ul><ul><li>maybe PSFK will treat us to periodic reviews of best ideas found on blogs this month </li></ul>
  23. 24. pattern cognition in summary: 2. building our own ideas as we go <ul><li>Just-in-time as one case in point </li></ul><ul><li>Just enough as a second </li></ul><ul><li>not exemplary but the ideas that happened to happen this week </li></ul><ul><li>we can follow up here but sharing half formed observations </li></ul><ul><li>there are conversational rules about how “half baked” a thought can be </li></ul><ul><li>we need to change these rules, these tolerances </li></ul><ul><li>(or get new friends) </li></ul>
  24. 25. Pattern cognition in summary: 3. brute noticing, Sahlinsian! <ul><li>noticing stuff in the world </li></ul><ul><li>nothing happens unless this does </li></ul><ul><li>not assimilating </li></ul><ul><li>not being Mr. or Ms Smarty Pants </li></ul><ul><li>not grabbing at things </li></ul><ul><li>but letting the world put us on notice </li></ul><ul><li>no, we don’t “get” this </li></ul><ul><li>stopping to think what we would have to think to think this </li></ul><ul><li>listening for what might be patterns </li></ul>
  25. 26. Pattern cognition in summary: 4. patterns make more patterns <ul><li>this is the climb from small patterns to bigger ones </li></ul><ul><li>in the case of our rush to a meta-pattern for just-in-time and just-enough, we climbed very far indeed </li></ul><ul><li>a whole new bargain </li></ul><ul><li>really? anthropologist, please! </li></ul><ul><li>but this really is the high rigger stuff and the most fun possible </li></ul><ul><li>we need forums for this </li></ul><ul><li>PSFK here too? </li></ul>
  26. 27. seeing things <ul><li>we’re in the business of “seeing things” </li></ul><ul><li>our clients depend on seeing things early and clearly, on grasping new patterns </li></ul><ul><li>pattern: product idea, campaign theme, BFI, innovation, positioning strategy, new media play </li></ul><ul><li>it wasn’t there naturally at MIT </li></ul><ul><li>so I started wondering what are the mechanics? </li></ul><ul><li>are there patterns to pattern recognition? </li></ul><ul><li>I hope this was useful </li></ul>
  27. 28. <ul><li>you can reach Grant McCracken at grant27@gmail.com </li></ul>