Friday, January 21, 2011

2011 Architecture Survival Guide

An article in last Sundays Observer newspaper about Facebook has set me thinking about how we architects can not only survive in today's rapidly changing technological environment but also actually make a positive difference to the world (even if it's not on the scale of Facebook, assuming you think that has made a positive impact on the world).

The article by John Naughton examines the claim by the Winklevoss twins that they were ripped off when they reached a settlement with Mark Zuckerburg in 2008 after they claimed it was they who had invented Facebook. Their claim is that the number of Facebook shares they acquired was based on a false valuation. For an entertaining view of this see, or rent, The Social Network which goes into the history of how Facebook came into being. The article goes on to pose the question: would we now be looking at a social networking service with 600 million users if the Winklevoss twins had been the ones to develop Facebook?

Naughton thinks not and goes on to explain that although the Winklevoss twins were not stupid they probably "laboured under two crippling disadvantages":
  1. They were, and probably still are, conventional people who may have been good at "creating businesses in established sectors but who find it hard to operate in arenas where there are no rules".
  2. The twins weren't techies and so had no real insight into the technology they were creating and its possibilities. They were therefore less likely to "spot the importance of allowing Facebook to become a software platform on which other people could run applications".
Here's my takeaway from this if you want to come up with new ideas, at whatever scale, no one else has thought of.
  1. Don't think conventionally.Conventional thinking will end up creating conventional business models. Conventional means doing what you've been told or what your peers do. Someone once said "fear of our peers makes us conservative in our thinking". Zuckerburg was not only fearless of his peers (the Winklevoss twins) but had no qualms about using (some would say stealing) their ideas and using them for his own ends. I guess it poses an interesting moral dilemma about when it is right to steal someone elses idea because you think you can do more with it. Facebook paid for this by handing over cash and shares to the Winklevoss twins but have benefited from this 'investment' many times over.
  2. Don't think like everyone else. Walter Lippmann (a writer and political commentator) once said "where we all think alike, no one thinks very much." Some people claim that Zuckeburg (if you believe the movie at any rate) exhibits characteristics that place him on the autistic spectrum. (actually as having Asperger syndrome). One of the characteristics of someone with Aspergers is that they display behavior, interests, and activities that are restricted and repetitive and are sometimes abnormally intense or focused. Zuckeburg not only thought differently to everyone else but took an idea and focused on it intensely (many, many hours of programming) until Facebook was created. 
  3. Think visually. Interesting related to number 2. People on the autistic spectrum are often more visual thinkers than those who are not. We often joke about "back of an envelope" or "back of a fag packet" designs but setting aside the medium the ability to visualise your thoughts quickly and succinctly is a key characteristic it's worth fostering. One of my more memorable ad-hoc design sessions took place over a meal in a restaurant where we used the table cloth as a our drawing canvas. Luckily it was a paper table cloth!
  4. Don't get out of touch with technology. One of the dangers of becoming an architect in order to make yourself "more valuable" (see Dilbert below) is you not only lose touch with technology but you lose the ability to exploit it in ways others may not see. Making Facebook an open platform has been one of the key factors in its runaway success. I've discussed before the importance of being a versatilist (broad in several disciplines and deep in a few specialisms) and this ones all about picking your technology (we can't all be good at everything) and specialising yourself in it! 
Dilbert.com


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