Wednesday, February 27, 2008

apoc week 7

So, after missing class last week due to the Metaverse Flu, I returned to USC for the 7th APOC class and third faculty seminar. Despite glorious weather, a large number of faculty showed up for a look at innovation and how it interacts with virtual worlds. Innovation can be a vexing topic to discuss. Everybody is pro innovation and claims to "know it when they see it", but few have dug in enough to grok what it means to talk about innovation at the edges of social networks, the tensions between organizational structures optimized for ideas versus execution, or the boundaries between innovation, invention, and improvement. Fortunately, this audience was up to the task and while we started slowly, it evolved into a very active discussion.

The examples from within Second Life demonstrate the general principles we would want to maximize the chances for innovation anywhere. A large, diverse cohort of entrepreneurs exploring design space while cheaply learning from each other. The exciting part for the future is to consider how to build on this approach to innovation within real-world corporations and projects.

Class this week was mostly catch up on their first module papers. The students who hadn't given presentations ended up talking about micro- and niche communities, which is not a surprise given the breadth of communities they've been exposed to in class and through their own careers. What is a surprise is how directly their ideas and challenges echo a piece of reality TV I watched while wiped out by the flu.

I know, I know, reality TV. Shudder. But given the options when fighting off a high fever during the daytime, I found "Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares" to be not only entertaining as hell, but very apropos to anyone thinking about online communities. For those who have not seen the show, it is on BBC America and has the renounced restaurateur going into failing British restaurants, elevating swearing to remarkable heights, and turning them around.

On the surface, it looks like Ramsey is pretty much being a tool, mostly because every third word is bleeped and he ruthlessly identifies weaknesses, but watch for a while and you realize that Ramsey is someone who deeply understands the restaurant business. He gets what the tricks of the trade are and how to use them to best effect. Even better, he has a keen eye for whether employees are playing to their strengths and how to balance skills and weaknesses within the stresses of a restaurant. Finally, he is able to understand the customer -- both the current crop and the customer the restaurant will need to ultimately succeed -- and to provide an experience the customer will happily pay for, tell their friends about, and return to again and again.

Sound like skills you'd need to manage a niche community? Or maybe even a not-so-niche community?

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