About the information age

This is strictly my opinion -- I wrote it for myself -- and I'm therefore stating everything as if it's fact. I'm truly much more interested in the interplay of ideas, and what we can create by responding to this viewpoint than I am in being right.

Background

During the 20th Century, it became increasingly clear that it is impossible for the individual to handle everything required of him or her. There's just too much stuff happening, too much that used to be impossible that is now old-hat, too many things that used to be someone else's responsibility which are now piled on top of the individual.

First, responsibility.

These days, a writer is expected to deliver Word documents when he used to deliver typed pages. A Word document combines the act of writing with the act of typesetting. When typing, a space between a quote and the next word is fine, but not when typesetting. This has brought concept / creation crashing into implementation details, and for most people, the details win and the creative suffers. I think everyone in the human race is subconsciously aware of this, and resents it. No one likes to be in the position of looking stupid, but it happens many times every day. And it's generally not the fault of the individual. Rather, it's due to the act of de-valuing a previously-valued human activity.

Second, quality and completion.

Due to the rate of change, nothing is ever done. Really. Even what used to be very, very reliable things like phones, gas and electricity are subject to constant, unnerving change, and consumers suffer for it. For instance, many of cars have been recalled simply because of software bugs; how am I as a consumer supposed to take that? I can't look at a gear and see that it's wearing out...I have to go on some programmer's word that he checked all the possibilities and that his programming covered all the bases. And we all have a gut feeling that's impossible.

Third, community.

We are very clearly over-connected. There's no space left for a human to be a human, for thought, for contemplation, for the simple and necessary act of digestion. Without digestion, the next decision is not a considered decision, it's simply a reaction, which quickly becomes a chain reaction with very little conscious direction.

Fourth, the individual and the market.

The Holy Grail of marketing is beautifully illustrated in Minority Report, when the walls sense each person's identity and display offers for that person alone. In a market of one, who do we relate to? Who do we use as a gauge of normal behavior, or a normal level of responsbility, or a normal response to certain stressors, or even for a bit of companionship with someone who might have a similar outlook? Advertising and graphic design are used in an attempt to create "style groups", basically separated by the level of cleverness, and we're at the point where the cleverness itself is the product. The overwhelming quantity of it all results in the sense that everyone and everything is being patronizing. The response is "don't you think I'm smart enough to make up my own mind without being pandered to?".

Fifth, what's new?

Given the rate of change and the rate of automation and systematization, we have completely covered the set of "new" things. Therefore, without $100 million startup capital, there is nothing new. Individuals and businesses must compete on something else entirely.

Sixth, why do it?

For the scope of this discussion, there are two types of people: those who are aiming at something with their lives and are willing to take risks to get there, and those who want to fit in. Leaders and followers for short. The rate of change and the upheaval in community makes the world a much scarier place than it used to be, causing more and more people to want to slip into the follower position.

Going Forward

So what's the result of the above points? We as individuals are unfairly expected to do things we don't want to do, we don't have the space and time to do the things we want to do, the quality suffers, and we feel simultaneously guilty and angry. Without a clear scape goat or a clear way to fix it, we become jaded.

On the business front, there are two extremes: large and laser-focused companies with deep experience and capability in a thin vertical vs. little guys who attempt to be generalists.

Response

First, responsibility.

Ask for people to help proof, yes, but also be quite clear about exactly who is ultimately responsible. And carefully lay out where responsibilities should end. Copywriters who used to use typewriters should never provide Word docs unless they are willing to deal with the rules for typesetting (which have been standardized longer than have copywriting standards).

Second, quality and completion.

Understand and accept that's the case for the world, expect it, and then understand that our clients are suffering the same frustrations. From this perspective, our role is not implementors or even creatives, it's navigators. We've been there many times, and we can offer our clients the insurance of our experience and the peace of mind that says "these guys know how to figure things out" and "they've been there before and understand what's important".

Third, community.

Engineer time to digest, to be creative in groups, to discuss projects, goals and ideas. And understanding that our clients are in the same boat, bring them further into the process, especially the creative process. This is where thumbies are relevant. Bring the client in for the brainstorming sessions in which thumbies are generated and ideas are bandied about. Get the client invested in the process so that a glitch is a shared responsibility and a success is a shared win.

Fourth, the individual and the market.

Ensure that the overall conceptual level is our priority. We should know and be able to articulate the top-level goals for every single client and job, and every single item we produce under that umbrella should be evaluated by those responsible against it. That goes for Glyphix as well.

Fifth, what's new?

Wordsmiths started by being "the company different because we use the Macintosh". Glyphix started by being "the company that can handle your traditional communication needs plus Web stuff". Both of those points of difference are completely gone. The differentiator can no longer be that we're new, or that we can help you deal with the new stuff: we must compete on capability / quality / thought / consulting / experience or whatever else we believe we do well.

Sixth, why do it?

There's a reason big consulting firms have a clear "success ladder". It gives followers a simple, clear view toward the future: job descriptions, responsibilities, pay. Yes, we can laugh at it, but it's necessary for most people. Granted, we're not a large consulting firm, but the partners have complained many times in the past about employees who continue to want raises when their job description hasn't changed. Instead of complaining about it, deal with it: be clear about job descriptions, recognize when the job description changes, and respond accordingly. Otherwise, employees feel like they're going nowhere, and negativity sets in. No goals, no positive outlook and no drive.

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