Business PLANtings (test)

A test of using Google’s map maker to demonstrate where the business plans will be buried in Silicon Valley – more to come. Zoom out for the full effect ūüėČ

Of course this is just an initial sketch – but the idea of creating a kind of mythology / “code” around the form of the placement pattern is pretty intriguing.

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Database Content Creation Strategies

As mentioned in earlier posts, the business plan generator/algorithm works by pulling from a list of words that generate in the spaces allotted. It is stronger to use a process for authoring these lists that is objective (systematized / restricted) as opposed to subjective (authored by my own imagination) in order to provide the illusion of true artificial intelligence / automation. I have begun brainstorming strategies for discovering these words that matches the context of my thesis investigations.

The word-sets I need to create: “Problem”,”Opportunity”,”Market”, and “Genre.” Using twitter, a product invented in Silicon Valley (the target of the project), and the number 83 (the amount of cities in Silicon Valley), I have created a series of restrictions / guidelines for discovering each of¬†these¬†words. I have those posted here as well as some examples of what it produces.

Twitter (to find “problem”):

  1. search “annoying”
  2. “all” to reveal all related tweets in the search
  3. jump to the 83rd tweet
  4. record the “problem” evident in the tweet

Problems Generated: Shoulder injuries, Alcoholism, Bowlcut Hairstyle, too many drivers or over-population

Twitter (to find “opportunity”):

  1. search “awesome”
  2. “all” to reveal all related tweets in the search
  3. jump to the 83rd tweet
  4. record the “opportunity” evident in the tweet

Opportunities Generated: Talking animals, Bible Study

Twitter (to find “market”):

  1. search “these people”
  2. “all” to reveal all related tweets in the search
  3. jump to the 83rd tweet
  4. record the “market” evident in the tweet

Market Generated: People not from Seattle

It is interesting to compare this approach to word generation to the very first exercise I did in my thesis studies Рthe Serendipitous Business Model Generator (walking edition).

Business Generated: Park Benches for Dogs at Railroad Stations.

Moving forward, I will continue to collect these words as well as brainstorm and explore further strategies for objective content creation. I am interested in how the process of collecting can be one that is extremely extravagant and planned – almost an extension to the algorithm itself.

Algorithm Progress

I now have an initial working prototype of the business plan generator – this specific version is focusing specifically on the “company purpose” which is a short paragraph that encompasses an entire business plan. This is also the only piece of writing that the majority of investors require. The prototype is actually made entirely by using php. The algorithm, in this first stage, is essentially replicating the initial prototype I had, but is freed from the restrictions of using a third-party system. This allows me to house the algorithm on my own server, but also, obviously, is more flexible for further development and refinement.

I really enjoy looking at the source code behind such an algorithm – it is really interesting to see the “back end” of a generative business plan. Here are some screenshots:

The system works by creating an initial template ( a series of sentences) that have dynamic elements embedded within them. Each of these dynamic components (words) are then made generative by pulling from an archive of words related to that subject matter.

The system, in this stage, is not very robust – we only have 2 or 3 sets of words it is pulling from, but moving forward the following is being considered / tweaked:

  1. “Deep” crafting: instead of generating¬†words, generate pairs of words / phrases. This will give a greater illusion of artificial intelligence, and will also form less of a¬†noticeable¬†relationship between the template and the outputs.
  2. Pondering different means of approaching plurals, consonants, vowels, etc…
  3. Should the company name be generated? Should that be left out, and be a part of what the¬†human interprets from the machine’s output?
  4. I am currently compiling a list of openly available “company purpose” statements in order to analyze more the language used, and the overall sentence structures at hand. This will allow us to break the common elements / forms of these statements into chunks of data that can be grouped into the algorithm.
  5. “Flexible simplicity” is the method we are using – this essentially means an attempt to not have too much control, or too little control, but just in between the two.

Introducing Steven J. Kukla

I’m excited to introduce you to¬†Steve Kukla – By day, Steve is a project manager for eBay, and by night Steve is an entrepreneur and composer for film and concert music. I have brought him on as technical director for my thesis project – specifically to make my vision for the business plan algorithm work. Steve and I met in 2007 and, coincidentally, Steve taught me a lot of what I know about business. Over the years we have brainstormed countless of business ideas, and his entrepreneurial spirit is strong. I prepared a series of questions for Steve below.

What is your relationship with entrepreneurship?
I’d say that, as an artist, I’ve always been interested in entrepreneurship, but I’ve always called it something else or looked at it in a different guise. ¬†At first, I considered¬†entrepreneurship¬†to be something “business people” did. ¬†It was about having big meetings in board rooms, pouring over numbers, making more money. ¬†I avoided it, because I really didn’t give it the time of day; I wanted to do my thing, to write music, to hear people’s reactions, and then to write more. ¬†In high-school and college, I began to realize that entrepreneurship is really just another word for creation. ¬†It’s about making stuff, expressing something you love, getting that thing to as many people as possible, and then making it better.
We’ve obviously¬†brainstormed¬†about 1,000 business ideas¬†together¬†over the past 5 years or so… what do you think makes an idea great? Where do ideas come from?
For me, a great idea is something that I can identify with and get excited about. ¬†It’s something that makes my life easier and more rewarding. ¬†A great idea is one for which the “what” is clear, even though the “how” isn’t. ¬†It’s something that makes somebody say “Okay, that’s awesome. ¬†I have no idea how to accomplish yet, but I’m willing to do everything to make it happen.”
As far as where ideas come from… I think that at the heart of every idea is a root “problem” or challenge that somebody has recognized at some point in their lives. ¬†The “what if?” question comes about when somebody wants to do something but can’t. ¬†Ideas come from personal inspiration, too — somebody hears a piece of music or sees a piece of art that moves them. ¬†Finally, I believe that inspiration for great ideas often come from enthusiastic collaboration. I really enjoy working with a group of people who can come together to work on something larger than themselves.
My thesis is speculating a time in which entrepreneurial practice comes to a¬†halt¬†as humans lack the capability to perceive problems. What’s your take on this scenario?
In terms of your thesis, I think the question isn’t so much whether or not humans will lack the ability to perceive problems, but rather, it will be whether or not humans have enough interest in finding solutions for them. ¬†Too often, I think people are more concerned with saving time and money then they are about finding the best solution to the real problem. Nobody wants to “re-invent the wheel” because it’s there already and it works; why should they? The idea of creativity and art as it relates to problem solving is extremely important; the more creativity and art is fostered in schools, in the home, in the workplace, the more people will be able and willing to think outside the box to come up with really great ideas.

Reinterpreting the Role of the Designer

I am so excited to announce I have been nominated (and selected) by the Pittsburgh community to deliver a TEDx talk on “Reinterpreting¬†the Role of the Designer” at TEDxCMU.

The talk will open by talking about the evolved role of designers – from creators that make “facades” to thinkers that design systems. This shift in focus within the industry, I argue, has transformed the practice of entrepreneurship into a medium of design. I will go on to discuss the designer’s obligation, with this new tool, as well as the opportunity that I have discovered, in the social sector.

The talk is March 4th at CMU’s University Center McConomy Auditorium, and will bring 400 audience members from all around to share in ideas.

The “Company Purpose”

The argument of my thesis is that we (humans) will run out of ideas, and the ability to perceive problems, giving the illusion that all problems are solved, when indeed they are not, and thus making entrepreneurial practice obsolete. I am not arguing that, once these problems are laid out for us, we won’t be able to act upon them. We need an automated innovator, not a producer. Humans will always find a way to figure out how to make stuff work, that is not the issue I am concerned with. I’m interested in the lack of perception of these problems, the illusion that we are problem-less. Generating an entire business plan, then, would not be an appropriate approach to communicating this idea. Instead,¬†I propose to build a robust Company Purpose generator.

The “Company Purpose,” or “Executive Summary,” provides a summary of all contents within a business plan. I am defining the Company Purpose as the basis of entrepreneurship as it represents the idea, or seed of an idea, as a whole. It is the only space in which the problem, opportunity, and solution are identified in one space, simultaneously. Therefore, every other component / section of a business plan exist solely to fill in the details of this all-encompassing statement – deeming them unnecessary components for this exploration. The following is an initial mock up of a potential structure for the more robust iteration of the “Company Purpose” algorithm:

This initial mock-up / prototype of the¬†algorithm¬†is an iteration on previous models, especially from the 1,000 Businesses project. This “template” is created by studying the patterns and trends within openly available business plans, on the internet, and averaging that content into this series of sentence structures. Check out some earlier iterations on this below:

These initial explorations were the seed of understanding how to discover the patterns in existing plans, but began to hold too much of a connection with mad libs. The reason I am not interested in that method is that it easily exposes the algorithm and, in doing so, eliminates the autonomous feel to the system. By adding more variations in grammar, etc. into this series of sentences, the template behind it’s creation gets lost – making it feel as though it were written by a human. I like that.

Defining a Project Direction

I have decided to continue pursuing the algorithm, as my final project. To actually build this thing, make it work, and then create a series of interventions (residing on both the fictional and non-fictional spectrums of the interests), in order to play out the idea of a human’s reliance on a piece of software to generate new ideas. More specifically, I want to bring to life potential scenarios of how this thing would exist in the business world… How would a meeting with an angel investor, in which the person is forced to pitch an idea generated by a machine, go? What would it be like to play these machine-generated ideas out, strategically, in a conference room? What kind of response, if any, would a venture capital firm provide upon receiving 1… 10… 100… of these business plans? These are the three questions, or three projects, that I will be pushing towards for the end of the term.