Disruption and IIW Fall 2014

While I attended several fascinating sessions at IIW this week, the one that I am still churning on was VRM and XDI or Respect Network or something. The room was packed. I came in late. I entered when the conversation was turning toward metaphors. What are the various metaphors we have used to talk about being on the internet? House, real estate, transportation, commerce, etc.

I am reminded, of course, of Metaphors We Live By, which discusses how conceptual metaphors shape our lives. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conceptual_metaphor)

And while Lakoff has fallen out of favor in some academic circles, I continue to find his work fascinating. But I am not interested here in linguistic wars between Lakoff and Chomsky. And I am also not going down the rabbit hole of the Embodied Mind, although I am tempted to go into why behaviorist approaches coming out of the “cognitive *” fields are important to watch. But we can save “observation matters” for another post.

For now, let’s skip all that and just consider what metaphors do for innovation in technology. For some backstory on my innovation typing, see “Innovation Types” post: http://www.jeanmrussell.com/innovation-types/

Disruptive innovations can be challenging to get uptake. Often people don’t even know they want it. Did people know they wanted TV before there was TV? What about video players? Mobile Phones? The closer an innovation is to what we already have, the easier it is for people to recognize they want it. Combinatorial or efficiency innovation is easier – people already want the product or service – they just want it better, cheaper, more integrated with other things, or of higher quality etc.

So much of our experience of computers and the internet in the last 50 years has been disruptive. People didn’t know they wanted it, didn’t know what it was or what it did. And when one introduces such things, we use metaphors to bridge from the familiar to the new. Your domain is like your home. Your Home Page. Email is like mail but sent over the computer.

And along with these metaphors come a set of protocols and expectations. If I buy a domain as a home, then I don’t expect other people to have control there. I am responsible for keeping it tidy and inviting other people there. I can get a prefab home or make one myself.

And these are all really helpful ways of using metaphors to help a new disruptive innovation gain traction in the world.

However, if we want to BE disruptive in our innovation, we want to look for a different kind of metaphor. Websites are not just like homes, they have some features that homes do not and lack some features that homes have. If we use models of the familiar in creating our innovations, we aren’t likely to be very disruptive at all.

To be disruptive, we have to explore what new metaphors are expanding our awareness of what is possible and then port them, via metaphor, into new spaces that can benefit. What does the discovery of the Higgs-Boson make possible for our ideas about how the internet works? What might epigenetics inspire in terms of disruptive innovation of the internet?

Some people like to cite science fiction writers who flesh out an idea that we can then work toward. This is helpful for innovation, certainly, but I want to know how even those writers come up with these ideas. What metaphors can we imagine and then see how they might be applied in the field we are hoping to innovate within?

What about an internet innovation based on teleportation? See Martin Geddes. https://gigaom.com/2012/02/25/its-the-end-of-the-line-for-telco/

Another approach to innovation on the internet? Go up and down a layer. What would it mean for social to move down a layer? Apply the metaphor at a different layer?

Or go hunt for the birthing metaphor, find its roots and see if that root has evolved. Much of the internet structure is born from network theory. What limitations does that model put on what can happen and how might we transcend those limitations? What is new network theory? http://networkcultures.org/networktheory/about/

How do you think we can find new models and metaphors that extend and even disrupt the possibility space?