Creativity and Collaboration – Kanye West Style

Found this coverage of a Kanye West recording session of his latest album, via Kottke. Not sure if it’s the take of a fan-boy but definitely seems intriguing. A small quote from one of the participants..

My favorite thing about Kanye is he just doesn’t quit. He does not quit on a song. Sometimes in pop music, there’s so much clutter and so many people trying to do something that’s gonna get on the radio or whatever, but he’s truly about approaching the song and finishing it and doing the coolest possible thing that he wants to express. He’s not just a rapper. He’s not just a producer. He’s a musician. He’s a true artist in every sense. Every part of his expression, from his clothes to everything, is a part of how he lives his life, and I think that’s why he’s so successful. I would show him what I did and he would come back and be like, ‘Oh, that’s awesome.’ Or, ‘Oh, that’s not cool.’ And we would just work on it—there was no ego involved, it was just what’s best for the song.

What comes out is the collaborative nature of the creative process, the feedback loop that feeds the next iteration, the perseverance, the openness to critical appraisal, the trust that seems to exist between the team..all of this built upon a foundation of honesty.

As I said at the start, it could be a fan-boy’s view but at that level of public scrutiny every chink in the armor would be a gaping wound attracting unwanted attention.

Also, our blinkered view sets up stereotypes that are hard to look beyond. Perhaps the rapper and his bling bling are more virtuous than the suave banker siphoning off what is not his.

Update: Fixed typo in Kanye West’s name.

Indirection as the Foundation of the Connected Web

The PC revolution brought many advantages, chief among them is the ubiquity it could achieve due to advantages of scale. The mobile device revolution that is currently underway brings about

However as our utilization of technology as increased there are some fundamental principles the larger user community has overlooked, which could potentially yield us greater benefits. John Udell, a tech guru on Radar, blogs about one of these fundamental principles, Principle of Indirection.

Indirection should be perfectly familiar to programmers who would typically know it in the context of passing around variables for other sub-routines to manipulate.

The Problem..

..is this and I shall use John’s example. Say someone asks what information you have on some topic. You could send them a list of items, this would be pass by copy. Or send a reference, say a link to a page that contains these items.

Pass by Copy..

..mode of data sharing should be perfectly familiar to anyone who grew up using PCs. You need to send a note to someone. So you open Word, create a file, put in contents, attach it into a mail program like Outlook at hit send. This is all good until you consider what could happen next. What if you had forgot to add an item, now you reopen the Word file, add the forgotten item, resave and re-send using Outlook. Now the recipient has two slightly different versions of the same content. Which is not bad except when the user has to figure out what is the latest and most authoritative version of the list of items.

Copy mode of sharing data is like taking a picture of a landscape, it is a snapshot at a point in time. Subsequent changes are not reflected in the original picture.  For more reasons on why pass by copy can be bad, read the benefits of pass by reference below and think of its opposite.

Pass by Reference/Indirection

John explains the benefits of this approach much better

1. I am the authoritative source for the list. It lives at a location in memory (that is, at a URL in the cloud) that’s under my control, and is bound to my identity.

2. The list is always up-to-date. When I add items, you (and everyone else) will see a freshly-updated list when you follow the link I sent you.

3. The list is social. If other people cite my link, I can find their citations and connect with them.

4. The list is collaborative. Suppose you want to extend my list. In a pass-by-value world, the best you can do is add to the copy I sent you. I won’t see what you’ve added, and neither will anybody else. In a pass-by-reference world, though, we can both keep our own lists, publish references to them, and then produce a merged list by combining the referents.

As is evident, for a piece of published information to be live it has to be published using the principle of indirection. And that is the foundation of the connected web.

The next sections list out some obvious implications to the user community.

Relevance to Common Users

If it is still not clear let me reiterate the use case quoted earlier. Every user of Microsoft Office uses pass by copy semantics. Which in turn leads to a completely lame way of sharing data and collaborating around them. Imagine this, every time you have had to get a group together to work on a project, the Microsoft Office way of generating, sharing and collaborating around data will only have been an exercise in masochism.

Unless of course they use a companion application like SharePoint, even then its like collaborating on a crutch due to locked data in proprietary file formats that were not designed for collaboration or being distributed around. But that would be topic for another blog post.

Relevance to Enterprises

Enterprises, especially those in the information business, have the most to lose by being tethered to the PC way of thinking. The untold amount of data locked in the PCs and mail boxes of their employees hampers their own growth. If they have to have any chance of competing in a post-PC world, they will have to consider the best practices that the Web world has made possible.

For now read John’s post on Indirection. And watch this space for more on this topic of information sharing and the unlocking of value in the data we generate.

Why Most Enterprise Collaboration Initiatives Fail

Because tools are not invested with the will to collaborate.

Because before tools can aid collaboration people have to wish to collaborate.

Because some people would not collaborate if anything less than the very success of their endeavor is dependent on it.

Because for every person with an ounce of ego, the perfect solution already exists in their head, if only reality would yield to it.

Because metrics that measure success of their objectives do not account for the pathways taken to accomplish them.

Because every fiefdom has its lord who is reluctant to mingle with the peasants.

Or we collaborate so there are co-conspirators who can stand along side when its all in shambles.

What other reasons do you think make large enterprises have sub-optimal levels of collaboration going on?

Quote – On Collaboration

Collaboration around information is more valuable than the information by itself.

– John Roese, CTO Nortel @ Mobilize 2008 from here

Just think about that quote for a while.

If you are in the business of producing information, any information, or in the transmission of information this has big implications. Say you are a Bloomberg, or Factset or even ThomsonReuters!

Its not just about latency now.

The ticker plants and milli-second thresholds for information delivery are not so exotic anymore. The know-how to build and maintain large super-efficient data centers and data delivery infrastructures will be a commodity skill. Take Amazon with its AWS, to use it is now just a moderately complex exercise, look to that threshold reducing by every day.

The tools, hooks and enablers you build around your information will determine if your data survives the information jungle.

Not exotic terms applied to your old tool set. But genuine enablers based on open data formats and open APIs.

The tipping point where stale data + superior analytics beats super new data with outdated analytics is fast approaching.

What should the biggies of financial information do to survive the bleak times? What role should collaboration tools play in it? What do you think?