Monthly Archives: January 2012

Box & Button (Workshop #004): Part 01

A third workshop took place in Ahmanson Auditorium at Art Center College of Design with 70 participants from a wide range of academic focuses including: Graphic Design, Entertainment Design, and Illustration. The workshop explores the end of humanly perceivable problems, a massive problem in-it-of-itself that will result in the end of entrepreneurship, a practice that defines our species. The activity is set in a time in which each participant is incapable of identifying new problems. The workshop’s center-piece is a machine (a diegetic prototype) that is designed to aid in the entrepreneurial endeavors of the small groups. This machine does not claim to be capable of foreseeing or identifying problems that are not perceivable to mankind – that would be impossible (practically speaking). Instead, the machine, and the workshop as a whole, aims to spark conversation around the theories that drive my thesis by providing un-perceivable combinations of perceivable terms that are meant to inspire the development of business.

Some of the participants. Ahmanson Auditorium, Art Center College of Design

To start things off, the audience was prompted to develop 10 groups of 5-7 team members. 1 representative from each of the 10 groups was then directed to the front of the auditorium in order to approach the machine, and activate it’s vision.

The Dehumanized Entrepreneur (prototype) about to be activated by a participant

By pressing the big green button, the participant activates the Dehumanized Entrepreneur and, in doing so, generates 5 terms (Problem, Opportunity, Scenario, Industry, Audience) pertaining to the business they are being called upon to create during the workshop. The following is a sample of some of the terms generated during this initial session (check out an online version here).

Each group of participants is then prompted to record the data provided to them from the machine, and spend a week researching each of the terms in order to come back to the final session, part 2 of the workshop, with a strong knowledge of each of these generated terms. This knowledge will be necessary for the final outcome for the workshop: the creation of a rough business plan and prototype to communicate the human’s (participants) interpretation of the machine’s exported vision.

Further Reading / Concept Background: This workshop builds upon early prototypes of an Executive Summary Generator (1,2) that I developed as well as an initial, smaller-scale, workshop held in the Art Center Graphic Design Department’s Business 101 class with Terry Stone. Special thanks to Mateo Neri for sponsoring this two-day workshop.

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When Machines Design Machines: Keynote by Peter Cochrane

“Until recently we were the sole designers, alone in the driving seat making all the decisions. But, we have created a world of complexity way beyond human ability to understand, control, and govern. Machines now do more trades than humans on stock markets, they control our power, water, gas and food supplies, manage our elevators, microclimates, automobiles and transport systems, and manufacture almost everything.
It should come as no surprise that machines are now designing machines. The chips that power our computers and mobile phones, the robots and commercial processing plants on which we depend, all are now largely designed by machines. So what of us – will be totally usurped, or are we looking at a new symbiosis with human and artificial intelligences combined to realise the best outcomes possible.
In most respects we have no choice! Human abilities alone cannot solve any of the major problems that confront our species, and machine intelligence is now an imperative. To get the very best results we have to use computer modelling, visualisation and decision support. This also turns out to be a route to new materials, processing, production and thinking that promises to revitalise our industries and realise sustainable solutions. It may even turn out to be a new industrial revolution.”

A Visual Archive of Diagrams that Explain Unperceivable Things (Part 01)

 

 

The (Dis)Embodied Entrepreneur System Flow v3

For the third iteration of my flow chart, I took a more birds-eye view look at the system as a whole. I realized, from the conclusions made in my paper, that the two main outputs of the machine are the problem, and the knowledge required to approach the problem. The system right now lacks in specificity, something to work towards for future iterations.

Tweetable MFA Thesis

I decided to share the paper on twitter with @ tags in order to spread it to the individuals who were referenced, and influenced, the thesis. Doing so reduced the amount of characters I could actually use, but if I had to write a full, 140 character, tweet… it would go something like this:

My thesis speculates a time when all humanly perceivable problems are solved, and humans are an irrelevant component of entrepreneurship.

The Dehumanization of Entrepreneurship Part 05: Conclusion

The research and development of both the human-centered workshops, and the machine-centered prototypes, shed insight into my own personal strengths and interests to inform the ultimate direction and strategy for the The Dehumanization of Entrepreneurship.

”The facilitator is usually someone who gets something done, the lubricant in a process to achieve a goal. But, I think it can be more like a dirty lubricant. It can fuck up a process a little bit, make it self-reflective, inefficient, awkward, etc.” – Sean Dockray in conversation with David Elliot

Dockray frames facilitation as an art form that flips the corporate strategy on its head to yield interesting results. As an entrepreneurial practice, The Public School is an interesting model that provides nothing more than a space, and a framework, relying on the audience to define the rest. Both the system and the user rely on each other’s participation and existence for something new to be created. Without the framework, mankind’s output can not exist. Without mankind, the system’s framework is useless. While the resulting image of generative art can be beautiful and provocative, the piece is not actually the artwork itself, but instead the by-product of the piece, which is the code or process that generated it.

In the Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen argues that, to truly innovate, the entrepreneur has to partner with the consumer to create a space for collaborative discovery. This relatively modern theory (dating back to the late 80s / early 90s) recognizes success not as the result of one individual, but instead as a collaborative effort.

“Markets that do not exist cannot be analyzed: Suppliers and customers must discover them together. Not only are the market applications for disruptive technologies unknown at the time of their development, they are unknowable.”

This collaborative approach to innovation that takes place between the supplier and the customer allows for a voyage into unknown spaces, where communal exploration, dissemination, and discovery can emerge. If collaboration between the entrepreneur and the consumer, as Christensen explains, is the true seed of progress, perhaps automation and the complete dehumanization of entrepreneurial practice is not a strategy that matches the aspirations of this system. Instead of automation, then, the final system aspires to lay the groundwork for innovation by making visible our present condition, and inventing our past experience to give us (mankind) the tools to innovate on our own. The Dehumanized Entrepreneur, then, is not a system for autonomously generating business. It is an entrepreneurial seeing machine.

Fig 09. Compilation of on-going design research. These graphics aim to visualize the plan for a system that operates with two key functions – Function 01: Problem identification – the illustration of our existing condition. Function 02: Past Experience generation – the authorship of a knowledge that can inform mankind’s reaction to the discovered problem.

Works Cited:

  1. David Elliot, The Public School, http://spd.e-rat.org/writing/david-elliott-interview.html (May 2008).
  2. Clayton M. Christensen, The Innovator’s Dilemma (New York: Harper, 1997), 165.

The Dehumanization of Entrepreneurship Part 04: The System

The Dehumanization of Entrepreneurship is a design project that lays the groundwork for a system that aspires to heroically take the place of mankind in entrepreneurial practice. The system is a parallel being, a mimicry, and a representation, of the thoughts and values of an individual that starts things. It dehumanizes entrepreneurial spirit by leveraging it’s capability to create the bridge between our existing condition and our past experience. It creates these bridges by identifying a problem, and authoring the knowledge required to design a solution.

Of course this project, The Dehumanization of Entrepreneurship, cannot simply begin with an abrupt abandonment of the practice’s current human-driven methodologies. Instead, to begin working towards systematizing the process of innovation, I created a series of games and workshops that are designed to strike a balance between mediated decision making, and free-will. These initial projects range from workshops on defiant innovation at the Occupy camp in Downtown Los Angeles to card games that generate business plans. The human-centered research component, as developed in these workshops, is brought to a formal conclusion through the development of a final workshop, the Serendipitous Business Plan Generator, which took place in the city of Merced, California on November 11, 2011.

Fig 04. Presenting the game mechanics, and introducing the workshop designed specifically for the community of Merced to take full advantage of.

The City of Merced, known as the “Gateway to Yosemite,” is home to a population of nearly 80,000 individuals, about 30% of which are currently living below the poverty line. Homes at the median level in Merced saw a dramatic loss in value, 62%, the biggest drop anywhere in the country, according to data from Forbes. According to Zillow, by the end of 2009, house prices in Merced had returned to the levels seen over a decade earlier. This crisis has established a strong community of individuals and organizations that are actively seeking rich new ways of thinking about commerce and innovation, in order to transform the community into a rich space for survival, ingenuity, and break through.

Several organizations within Merced decided to take action on these aspirations by developing a town-hall meeting of sorts to bring leading voices from around the nation to lead the community into new modes of thinking. I was fortunate enough to have been approached to develop a workshop for the community of Merced at this gathering. The attendees of the gathering were a richly diverse audience of about 100 individuals that collectively represented the community of Merced. From farmers to students, all cultures and professions within the community were accounted for, making it a rich space to design a workshop that was very specific to the context and histories of Merced. In this space, I piloted a version of my Serendipitous Business Plan Generator (SBPG) that was designed specifically for this gathering. The SBPG works by juxtaposing three components: Scenario, Opportunity, and Modify Element.

Scenario: The situation (i.e. Growth, Collapse, etc.) in which the participant is starting their business. This element is designed to give insight into the resources they will be able to leverage for their business plan.

Opportunity: The emerging opportunity (i.e. Augmented Reality, Cyborgs, etc.) that the participant can take advantage of and consider when conceptualizing their business plan.

Modify Element: The specific space, industry, product, or service (i.e. Coffee Shop, Lamp, etc.) your business plan is in conversation with, adapting, or transforming.

While the Scenario and Opportunity decks were only slightly developed from earlier iterations, the Modify Element deck was completely re-visited to speak to this specific community. For the Modify Element deck, students from UC Merced were prompted to explore the community, and take photographs of spaces that illustrated both an essence of the community, and prominent issues at hand in the county. By getting the students (residents of Merced) involved in this preliminary aspect of the experience, the system became specifically designed for the City of Merced as a way to tease out ideas and concerns unique to this community.

These images were placed on 10 different roundtables around the community center, and participants were prompted to select their seat based on the space depicted in the photograph, assuming that the participants would select based on some kind of prior experience or emotional connection with the imagery depicted in the photo. Shortly after, the additional two cards (opportunity and scenario) were administered to the participants along with a business plan template, and full instructions for the exercise.

Fig 05. Each table housed a diverse group of Merced community members, working together to strategize their business proposal for the community of Merced, using the Serendipitous Business Plan Generator (left). Throughout the the activity, I spent time at each table to work with the participants on their ideas, and clarify any issues or concerns centered around the system itself (right).

In 30 minutes, the participants were prompted to develop a concept for a business that would exist in Merced that considered all three of the generated components as restrictions in the making process. In order to foster a bit of friendly competition amongst the groups, the community was informed half way through the exercise that some tables were given the same opportunities to capitalize on, thus creating direct competition between the groups in order to push the ideas beyond the top-level, initial, concepts.

After 30 minutes of rapid business generation, each group delivered a pitch to the audience as a whole, presenting the details of their business plans while their ideas were noted on a series of posters. After each presentation, the posters were pinned to the walls of the community center, and the community was asked to vote on the venture that would best benefit the community at large.

Fig 06. A participant pitches their group’s idea to the community (left). The participants as a whole vote on the business they wish to see come to life in the community of Merced (right).

After the Merced Project, I realized that all of the experiences designed thus far could be categorized as a kind of performance art, in the sense that my own presence is required in the administration and facilitation of each activity. What would happen if I remove myself from the process entirely? This iteration of the Serendipitous Business Plan Generator steps closer towards an automated system in order to explore the kinds of business plans an entrepreneurial machine could be capable of writing. 1,000 Businesses is a compilation of 1,000 algorithmically generated executive summaries that are written by the Serendipitous Executive Summary Generator, a semi-autonomous web app I developed that pulls from a series of word lists and sentence structures in order to generate an Executive Summary, the basis of all business plans, and entrepreneurial endeavor.

Fig 07. The Serendipitous Executive Summary Generator in action. Each exported statement is placed in one of one thousand folders to be archived in preparation for the development of 350 Business Plans.

The prototype works like this:

  1. The algorithm begins with a sentence structure that has certain words differentiated from the rest of the sentence through the use of {brackets}.
  2. The words within the {brackets}, and the sentence structures themselves, are randomized by pulling from a list of options for words and sentence formations that I provided in a database.
  3. Every time the user clicks “GIVE ME ANOTHER BUSINESS MODEL,” the page is refreshed, and a new statement with randomized key words, and an alternative sentence structure, is generated.

Fig 08. Data input process. Opportunity: The Cloud. (left) Demographic: 18-30 year olds. (right)

After generating 1,000 of these summaries, a series of key-terms are extracted from each executive summary (i.e. opportunity, demographic, etc.), forming a database of words to pull from for each plan. These terms are then manually inputed into the designated space(s) within 350 business plans, as dictated by the business plan algorithm I wrote by averaging business plan templates found online. The system has produced a range of businesses that begin to go beyond the first-level “silly,” and more into the believable, yet strange, realm. The algorithm that produces each of the 350 plans revealed a critical dimension that questions the same-ness of business plans, the “templatization” of innovation, and the seemingly automated nature of the field of entrepreneurship.