A Rant, yes, and a call for a return to Uncommon Thinking

As Mark Twain said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead”…

Last night, my very wonderful dear friend and I visited the Linden Memorial created by Codie.  Much more than an exhibit, the Linden Memorial is a powerful statement.  It honors and perhaps even foreshadows something of a much larger magnitude than appearances might indicate.  Displayed within the Memorial is the name of each Linden who collectively constitutes the 30% of LL’s staff to be laid off.  The Linden Memorial is deeply impactful; Codie’s sim where it is housed fully packed last night as I imagine it will be for a while.  It was profoundly difficult to view line after line of tombstones, each etched with the name of a Linden who have been laid off.  It was profoundly saddening to gaze upon Linden bears leaning against the headstone.  It was downright upsetting to see in the crowd a ghosted presence hovering nearby with a name tag that read “SL Gives You Wings.”

I don’t normally engage in a global display of emotion.  Frankly the invasiveness of the internet and the predisposition of the Age to seize upon a 140 character context when the actuality of that context is probably more along the lines of several adult years worth gives massive weight to the phrase:  “think before you speak.”  But on this topic of SL’s shifting direction, I have been thinking a great deal as many of us have been for well over a year.   The Linden Memorial compels me to put voice to my own internal rant and rambling (yes this is a disjointed ramble as the Mark Twain quotes suggests) and upset at LL’s strategic confusion, its role in impacting the inworld culture, along with our own role in impacting the culture.  I’ve never bought the uncompromising positions that minimize or completely avoid acknowledging the full extent of the inworld community.  Statements like “LL never does anything wrong…it’s a business doing the best it can and who are we to criticize them.”  Or the “I’m a responsible victim…what I do is important yet I’m helpless and couldn’t possibly be any kind of factor to anything ‘unpleasant’.”  Abdicating responsibility on either end of this relationship is incomplete.  Such a stance does nothing more than deny the very existence of the full organism.  The resident-avatar-personhood (choose your label for the customer)-LL relationship is a profoundly symbiotic one, of a very rare sort.  I’m not at all certain anyone could easily name all that many businesses beyond the business of SL where customers had such a far reaching (not “controlling” but far reaching) collaborative role in building and defining the company’s entire product, source of differentiation, and experience.

I share the community feeling of sadness over the fact that so many real people lost their real incomes in one fell swoop.  Like everyone, I hope they find other work immediately or near immediately despite a very tough economic climate.  I share a sense of foreboding around the underlying implications of what the 30% lay off might really be signalling in terms of LL’s intended vision for SL.  It’s difficult to not think that this more than suggests that what we’ve all created together is being impacted in deep, but not necessarily good ways:  an inworld experience that is less and not more, that is flatter and not richer, that is increasingly homogenized and not diversified, that is held hostage to the Tyranny of Conformity, to the Holy Grail Tyranny of Scaling (with no apparent rationale for it other than to chase Size for the sake of Size).  World domination without a vision simply isn’t a business model, isn’t meaningful, isn’t engaging, isn’t compelling.  It’s not even in demand.  It broadcasts only negative motivations (greed, megalomania) without indicating any value it might attempt to (or not even attempt to) provide to the market.  Even Google has a vision:  to free information for everyone and to not do evil in the process.  Whether or not they hit the metrics implicit in the vision is another question but at least they articulated a vision that focuses on a value to the market that is also based upon the company’s own very real strengths.  In this case of SL and LL, that kind of focus is the very thing that appears to be tossed carelessly aside (the first tell of that was with attempts to “sanitize” individuals and quarantine cultures inworld).  What are the things that make SL special and different?  In a simple sentence (for purposes of clarity, not for purposes of dumbing down) how would that be articulated?  Instead of taking a reactive position, constantly chasing after faster-than-everyone shiney markets that are fascinated today with the depthlessness of things (aka, Farmville some would say) until that same faster-than-everyone market tires of it, LL should do the more strenuous the more meaningful, in fact, the more vital work of TRULY knowing and articulating what SL already does better than anyone else *and* what that thing is (or things are) that its customers LOVE.  It’s not an either-or proposition.  It needs to be both.  It simply has to be both.  Knowing what customers love and knowing what it is about what LL’s customers love that LL does better than its competitors is the basis for building a vision.  This “magic” equation, this more organic sense of business strength is where the focus should be, not on an empty focus of chasing volume for the sake of volume.  Size and strength are simply not always the same thing.   Reaction and Vision are not interchangable terms. 

I keep finding myself listening again to Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talks that I posted yesterday (and that aired in February 2010) on the need to revolutionize education…really to revolutionize thinking and learning.  To move away from an industrialized, standardized mindset that is steeped in conformity and that chases volume and instead move back to an agricultural mindset that places its focus on creating the optimal conditions for things to flourish…an organic non-linear growth generated from the combination of the best conditions (strengths) and nurturing (doing more of what customers love).  From its earliest onset, SL was so incredibly far ahead, so incredibly visionary in embracing the organic approach, in nurturing Uncommon Thinking and Doing.  It can be scary standing that far ahead alone, waiting for others to catch up.  But isn’t that really a stronger, more authentic position to be in?  A place of genuine strength, a place where your customers love you to be and love to be with you?  Instead of trying to wall off, or dumb down, or chase Size purely for the sake of chasing Size?

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5 thoughts on “A Rant, yes, and a call for a return to Uncommon Thinking

  1. Oh, Lalo, thank you so much. I very much enjoy reading your weblog! I’m honored to be included in it.

  2. I really resonated with your post. Over the last week or so, I’ve been thinking about Second Life in relationship with the direction of the rest of the networked world. It seems to me that “classic” Second Life is its antithesis in many ways:

    Net=intentional distraction with disconnected multitasking. Constant scanning/searching for new information. Almost no friction to change domain (move from an email tab to a Twitter client) or simultaneous window views with constant split of attention.

    SL=intentional concentrated focus with most multitasking (chat, IM) within the context of a unified holistic 3D environment. Big difference in the scanning/search process, i.e. moving through a virtual store vs. shopping via the web store. The tradition of “away” and “welcome back” which I first found so unfathomable makes great sense from this perspective.

    Anyway, I’m working on a post to flesh out these ideas. I’ll leave you with a quote from Jordan Grafman, head of the cognitive neuroscience unit at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, found in a great book I’m reading, “The Shallows” by Nicholas Carr. I think it really supports the theme of your post:

    “The more you multitask, the less deliberative you become; the less able to think and reason out a problem…You become more likely to rely on conventional ideas and solutions rather than challenging them with original lines of thought.”

    1. Botgirl, many thanks for your always thought-provoking comments! What you describe is a compelling way to think about the nature of the Internet versus SL. It makes sense when you frame it that way, and still I can’t help but wonder how long those behavioral differences will stand…particularly with how we seek information on the Internet (I realize I’m going out on a very thin limb by saying that). Remember when websites were designed to be as non-linear and as non-structured as possible? It’s really interesting to me to hear how those who design websites are now saying that users do want to know where they are, even while they are clicking through…that they do want some sense of structure (and of course I interpret that to mean, some fuller sense of context…the possibility of fuller depth). What if the way we navigate the internet shifts yet again? What happens when people tire of only surface level skimming. I don’t know if it will ever go away completely or if I’m missing the larger point of what you describe, but I’m wondering if chasing The Way Things are Now — as SL and LL appear to be doing — is necessarily a smart thing to do. Perhaps if LL recaptured a vision (either through the company or through the community, or ideally both), I could get my mind around it better. It took 10 years for Cameron to make “Avatar” which we all know was based on a vision and somehow it captured the hearts of the market to make it the highest grossing movie ever. Thank goodness, Cameron didn’t act with impatience and make “Farmville” instead purely because Farmville is the flavor of the moment…as a rough example of what I mean. I know Cameron probably has the luxury of holding onto his vision, but there are plenty of examples of others who held onto their vision without such deep pockets when it wasn’t popular to do so. I’m thinking Apple and Google in the very early years when maybe they felt the pressure to be common instead of operating from a basis of their strengths and customer relationships. I hope you know what I’m trying to articulate despite my clumsily phrased example. I just don’t know that it makes much sense to operate from a reactionary stance when technology changes so incredibly rapidly. But be that as it may, I look forward to your posts on all these topics and to continued conversations about them across the ether!

      And thanks for the quote…that is indeed a really great quote by Jordan Grafman…exactly that. He really captures the issue. (I’ll have to pick up “The Shallows.”) Reminds me of a passage from “Googled” that quotes and paraphrases Nicholas Carr (from his book “The Big Switch”) on the thinning of the consciousness:

      “They impose homogeneity on the Internet’s wild heterogeneity. As the tools and algorithms become more sophisticated and our online profiles more refined, the Internet will act increasingly as an incredibly sensitive feedback loop, constantly playing back to us, in amplified form, our existing preferences.” (~ Nicholas Carr, author of The Big Switch) We will narrow our frames of reference, become more polarized in our views, gravitate toward those whose opinions we share, and maybe be less willing to compromise because, he (Carr) said, the narrow information we receive will magnify our differences, making it harder to reach agreement. Carr also expressed concern that search extracts another toll. ‘The common term surfing the Web perfectly captures the essential superficiality of our relationship with the information we find in such great quantities on the Internet … The most revolutionary consequence of the expansion of the Internet’s power, scope, and usefulness may not be that computers will start to think like us but that we will come to think like computers. Our consciousness will thin out, flatten, as our minds are trained, link by link, to DO THIS with what you find HERE and go THERE with the result. The artificial intelligence we’re creating may turn out to be our own.”

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