Tag Archives: utopia

Gillette’s Other Model (The History of the Future)

King Camp Gillette was a brilliantly conflicted figure amongst the greatest entrepreneurs in the 19th and 20th centuries. Gillette is best known for the invention of the razor, which pioneered a brilliant new model of business, “The Razor and Blades Business Model,” and “Freebie Marketing,” both strategic business tactics still in use today.

While working as a salesman for the Crown Cork and Seal Company, Gillette saw great opportunity in the design of a product that served it’s purpose, and then was tossed in the trash. One-time-use products that foster long-term, repeat, customers. While shaving his face one morning with a razor that lacked a strong edge, the idea to create a thin sheet of razor blade came upon Gillette, thus giving birth to the Gillette razor we have today.

Perhaps a lesser known side of Gillette is the fact that, aside from being a successful business man, he was also a utopian socialist, an entrepreneur with a strong disgust towards the competitive nature of the capitalist model that dominates North American economics. This passion inspired Gillette to be a prolific writer of books that sit between the genres of fiction and non-fiction. Gillette was an obsessive planner, writing hundreds of pages that aimed to highlight every last logistic element and business plan for his utopian vision. In his first novel, “The Human Drift,” Gillette wrote about the chaos of contemporary existence, and a prospectus for the alternative world he dreamed of building to fix it.

“…the drift of commercial affairs is moving with constantly accelerating force toward a common focus, that focus being the final control of the commercial field by a few mammoth corporations. In other words, the general per cent. increase in number of competitive individuals in any avenue of necessary production does not keep pace with the per cent. increase in population. As a consequence, there is a rapid increase of those who are masters or proprietors; and thus, in combination with the rapid improvement in machinery for displacing manual labor, is the main cause of depression in business. Hard times are here to stay, and our intervals of good times must become fewer and shorter as the years pass. This must result in increase of poverty and crime, such crimes as have their birth in desperation, and send a thrill of horror throughout the world. Shall we wait till the dagger falls, or is it our duty to recognize the danger which threatens, and avert if we can?”

Interestingly, the concerns expressed in this segment arguably raise the idea that Gillette’s writing may have served as a vision for the future of the United States of America’s current economic crisis, as brought to the forefront as of late by the Occupy Movement.

“The Human Drift,” as a text, represents an advocation of a new style of industry, and new social planning. In it, Gillette goes into intense, obsessive, details about his vision. The world of Gillette, named “The United Company,” was designed to exist in the Niagara Falls. During the time in which Gillette conceived of this alternative world, the first large electrical generating facilities at Niagara Falls, utilizing the alternating current system of Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse, were being built. Inspired by this, Gillette plans for a world powered solely by the electrical currents produced by the falls. The space itself is designed to accommodate the entire population of America at the time, with room for an expansion to include 30 million more inhabitants, a plan to allow the space to adapt as population grows in the future. As competition is the biggest enemy, in Gillette’s eye, The United Company was proposed to be designed in a way that terminated the possibility of competitive business by establishing one establishment per product. Distribution plants were planned for 100 cities across the country, with good distributed in an exact ration to the population itself. Gillette’s vision for the cities of America established the hope of eventually disintegrating all cities, drawing the population to the manufacturing centre itself in order to create the only city on the North American continent. Overall, Gillette’s vision called for an extreme mechanization of our current systems – extreme efficiency that aimed to lead to result in more wealth for the society as a whole, to share equally. By the people, for the people. Of course Gillette’s vision never came into fruition, but aspects of it have appeared, perhaps without direct intention or realization, in the work of modern entrepreneurs, and business theorists.

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) draws parallels to the vision of Gillette, in that it 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. The strategies and plans that managers formulate for confronting disruptive technological change, therefore, should be plans for learning and discovery rather than plans for execution. This is an important point to understand, because managers who believe they know a market’s future will plan and invest very differently from those who recognize the uncertainties of a developing market.”

This collaborative approach to innovation that takes place between the supplier and the customer, as Christensen explains, allows for a voyage into unknown spaces, where communal exploration, dissemination, and discovery can emerge. A perspective such as this, which embraces uncertainty, and collective discovery, can benefit from the design of systems that leverage community engagement as a medium for facilitating such exploration.

Another modern example of an aspect of Gillette’s vision in action is The Public School. The Public School is a systemic art piece, and established institution, founded by Sean Dockray. What began as a seemingly simple and tongue-in-cheek concept: the idea that a public school could facilitate a crowd-sourced curriculum and open participation, evolved into a network of schools around the world. While the institution is not, itself, an “official” academic institution, it does, in fact, hold classes that the public can sign up to attend. The Public School began at the Telic Arts Exchange, another venture of Dockray, in Los Angeles, but also resides in Berlin, Brussels, Chicago, Durham, Helsinki, New York, Philadelphia, and San Juan. As a school with no curriculum, The Public School operates through an interface that creates a public space for the proposing of classes, and the subsequent signing up by those who hold interest in the subject matter. Depending on the public’s interest, the class then evolves as a venue for tangible conversation and alternative education on an infinite range of topics.

Comparing The Public School to generative art, as David Elliot noted in a 2008 Interview with Dockray, is actually quite accurate. While the resulting image of generative art can be beautiful and provocative, the piece is not actually the artwork itself, as Elliot claims, but instead the by-product of the piece, which is the code or process that generated it. While the classes themselves are interesting, it is really the system as a whole, and the facilitation of it, that is evaluated as a piece of work.

”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 offers up a unique perspective on facilitation, framing it as an art form that flips the corporate strategy on it’s 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. This take on business design begins to foster an interesting conversation around the potential for the open-source movement to be successfully applicable to the business industry, and to the practice of entrepreneurship.

While “The Human Drift” advocated Gillette’s vision for a new style of industry, and a new social planning, Gillette’s second piece, “World Corporation,” served as the prospectus for a company that would be set up to create this vision. This document, written nearly 20 years after the initial text, is written in the style of a business plan of sorts, highlighting all of the by-laws and logistics of Gillette’s imaginary enterprise, “World Corporation.”

  •  “‘World Corporation’ represents individual intelligence and force combined, centralized and intelligently directed. Individuals are OF the corporate mind, but are not THE corporate mind.
  •  ‘World Corporation’ will possess all knowledge of all men, and each individual mind will find complete expression through the great Corporate Mind.
  •  ‘World Corporation’ will have life everlasting. Individual man will live his life and pass into the great beyond; but this great Corporate Mind will live on through the ages, always absorbing and perfecting, for the utilization and benefit of all the inhabitants on earth.’
  •  ‘World Corporation’ is a storehouse of Knowledge, Industrial Wealth and Power, constantly increasing, never diminishing.”

Gillette’s vision is based around the development of a system that continues to become more efficient and evolved based around the needs of society at the time of it’s conception. The corporate mind, itself, is not entrepreneurial – it does not create new, it simply takes what exists, and adapts it to improve society.

“‘World Corporation’ is a business plan of absorption by conversion, – a simple means of transferring the world’s wealth from individual control to ownership and control by the people.”

As a business plan of absorption by conversion, ‘World Corporation’ is a machine, of sorts, that requires human input. Therefore the system designs itself to be reliant on human perception and intuition, lacking it’s own capabilities for entrepreneurial endeavor and innovation in a time in which man alone may not be capable of providing that input.

As King Camp Gillette himself states, the progress of humanity is dependent on the birth of ideas, and “if individual minds should cease to give birth to ideas of improvement or discovery, the progress of man would cease.”

If this statement is of serious concern, then why does the machine itself not have entrepreneurial capability? As in – why does the machine lack the capability to think on it’s own, it strategic preparation for this distant-future in which the human mind cripples in it’s ability to conceive of the new?

As Research Scientists in the field of Quantum Physics attempt discovery, breakthrough is revealed in that which is counterintuitive. 0.999… is equal to 1. In this space, human intuition becomes irrelevant because the areas explored are not comparable to that of any past experience. The same could be said about the very distant future. Both are spaces in which common sense, alone, is considered shortsighted.

“Humans are governed by two clocks: the very slow-ticking clock of human evolution and the fast-accelerating clock of technological progress. The result of these two clocks not synching up is the human brain (and the public policy our brains generate) is unable to keep up with the complex environment around us.” – Rebecca Costa

As we continue to rapidly move towards a future, and past experience exponentially divides from present conditions, as Rebecca Costa illustrates with the two clocks of human governance, will mankind become an unnecessary component in the process of entrepreneurship?

My thesis designs for this space by researching and developing an embodied entrepreneur, with the aspiration to personally invent an entirely autonomous system. The process of which, and the outcome there of, will be a documented attempt at creating a business plan writing machine (BPWM) that can thrive without human input. In doing so, the hole in Gillette’s vision, the necessity of human input, will be filled in order to better prepare for a scenario in which our past experience rapidly loses relevance in the field of entrepreneurship.

Conversations: Rene Daalder

This past friday I had the opportunity to briefly speak with Rene Daalder, the creator of Space Collective and Cargo Collective about the progress of my thesis work.

Take-aways: Future, not Fiction. Fiction, as my work frames it, evokes an undertone of “uselessness” while Rene found my work to actually be quite practical, in a different kind of way. Products as thought-machines. Conversation starters. Consider a utopian version of each scenario I develop. Memory Allocation & Visualization Mask as a device for “memory optimization.” My work’s relationship to the art of Maywa Denki. “Device Art.” Business as “collective” – formed from the voices of many through the creation of a platform that defines a way of thought and participation.

Bespoke Futures

The key to creating a Utopian vision of the future is community engagement and the collective agreement of the masses. As Peter Lunenfeld highlights in his book, “The Secret War of Downloading and Uploading,” a Dystopian vision, “Mutants in the Rosebowl,” is the default answer from designers of the future because utopia can not be agreed upon. Utopia is different for every individual, like a fingerprint, no one person’s perception of utopia can ever be the same and another’s. Dystopia, on the other hand, is widely agreed upon. How can we start planning for a more ideal future, designing one that we would actually appreciate engaging in dialogue around? How can we, as designers of the future, design “utopia” for a wide demographic that extends beyond ourselves? How can an entrepreneurial method / approach to thinking engage a wide audience, or at least one that is bigger than ourselves?

“These bespoke futures go beyond profit and loss statements, to create an opportunity space for the imagination, enabling individuals and independent groups to create visions of the future that inspire them. The point is to move from P&L to V&F—profit and loss to vision and futurity—from ROI to ROV –the Return on Investment to a Return on Vision.” – Peter Lunenfeld

Could we ever possibly design an ideal future for more than just ourselves? Can a non-bespoke future be of value in understanding what we do not want?

Diegetic Business

Fiction is not enough, but it is necessary.

Fictional Entrepreneurship allows for innovation within a fictional model. It allows for wiggle room, iteration, failure, and for ideas to transform into other ideas. Fictional Entrepreneurship is about raising social and critical dialogue around issues within our daily lives, our governments, and our societies. It is about telling a damn good story, but above all, about creating things that could never exist, or changing that which we think we have an understanding of. It is about being an entrepreneur of the “impractical.”

“Mainly they were worried about the future, and they would badger us about what’s going to happen to us. Finally, I said: ‘Look, the best way to predict the future is to invent it. This is the century in which you can be proactive about the future; you don’t have to be reactive. The whole idea of having scientists and technology is that those things you can envision and describe can actually be built.’ It was a surprise to them and it worried them.” – Alan Kay

Diegetic Business, on the other hand, is about the transformation from fiction to non-fiction. Diegetic Business is not “non-fiction,” it is the in-between of the imaginary and the real. It is a process that begins to involve people, profit, non-profit, etc., but is not quite there yet. Diegetic Business is about failure, problem-making, and being a naive inventor.

If entrepreneurship and innovation are about making a need that only that product can fill, entrepreneurship, like design, is growing as a field that is not “problem-solving,” but “problem-making.” True innovation, and true futuring practices come not from fixing things, but breaking them.

Why would we want to foster entrepreneurs and business models that do not take care of our daily annoyances, but create them? Why would a consumer ever engage with a product that make their life less efficient? We don’t want to, and they wouldn’t, but it is a necessary step in this transformative phase from the imaginary to the real. A successful entrepreneur, or “future inventor” does not meet our current needs, but foresees our future needs and problems. In order to do this, they need to make them.

 “I don’t know who discovered water, but it wasn’t a fish.” – Marshall McCluhan. 

If you are immersed in the context and the content, you have an extremely difficult time being able to see what is going on. This is proof of the idea that being naive is actually crucial when approaching the design of a business model. In a conversation with Peter Lunenfeld, a master of futuring practices and media design education, he claimed that we, as a society, need more “hedgefoxes.” A hybrid creature that is part hedgehog (able to deep-dive into a subject matter), and part fox (able to go quickly back and forth between subject matter). I believe the same is in the field of business – it is ideal to be have deep knowledge in one matter, but have hybridity in your nature, allowing you to freely explore other mediums that are unfamiliar to you. Choose mediums you are unfamiliar with, but bring your bits of familiarity with you.

Invisalign, Amir Abolfathi

In April (2011), I paid a visit to some of Silicon Valley’s most successful and innovative entrepreneurs in order to discuss my radical approaches to business and entrepreneurship and get their take on it. One executive in particular, Amir Abolfathi, embodies the persona of a fictional entrepreneur. Amir is the co-inventor of Invisalign, the world’s first invisible teeth correcting device, as well as many other products within the dental industry. When I heard about his newest company, Sonitus Medical, I became intrigued by the project’s “imaginary” qualities – a hearing aid embedded in teeth. Sonitus Medical is the world’s first removable hearing aid that uses bone conduction of the teeth to enhance hearing. Amir admitted to me that, while he is a master of teeth, he honestly knew nothing about the hearing industry before starting this company. He claimed that is was this naivety that actually made him a better innovator in the hearing industry, because it allowed him to come up with hundreds of ideas and sketches that were in no way possible or practical. By leaving practicality behind, and by being naive to the capabilities and possibilities in the hearing industry, Amir was able to come up with ideas that were never previously considered.

Failure, like naivety, in entrepreneurship is critical – this is where fictional entrepreneurship can play a strong role. By being an entrepreneur of fiction (fictional consumers, fictional capital, fictional product), you have nothing to lose, and can iterate freely until ready to become diegetic.

Oblong Industries is a living example of viable business as a result of speculative thinking. Though the goal of the business is not to raise social and critical dialogue, it remains a prime example of Fictional Entrepreneurship due to it’s ability to influence a change on humanity’s perception of daily lives and routine. Originally a fantastical image of the future, the infamous “Minority Report” interface has been made a reality by the “g-speak” platform, a product of Oblong Industries and the speculative design innovation of John Underkoffler, the technology consultant for Minority Report, and the Chief Scientist for Oblong. In 2010, I had the pleasure of visiting Oblong Industries to see the product in action, and meet the CEO, Kwindla Hultman Kramer. A highlight from my discussion with Kwindla asked the question: “Is the process of making a concept of fiction a viable business model a difficult one?” Kwindla informed me that he believes all innovative business starts as fictional construct, but that the process of attracting investors to believe in such a speculative concept can be a difficult one. I argue that the detail seen in the design of Minority Report’s gestural interface successfully suspends the audience’s disbelief and uses fictional entrepreneurship to make these abstract visions of the future tangible.

While the interfaces and products in Minority Report are the result of a fictional entrepreneur’s innovations, the interfaces and products of Ooblong industries are that of a Diegetic Business – they are able to hold onto the innovative and imaginative qualities of the fictional series of explorations as seen in the movie, while seamlessly entering the beginning stages of commercialization.

The transformation from a fictional enterprise to a diegetic enterprise does not need to be one with commercial intentions, but can also be one that is used as a tool for raising social dialogue and maintaining critical integrity. The successful qualities of using business as a medium for these kinds of communicative tools is that it is very accessible – business is a medium that everyone (whether it is realized or not) is a part of. We are surrounded by business, and are embedded within business on a daily basis. Therefore, using business as a tool for raising these issues or jamming our culture can reach a larger market and attract more participation then any other medium. Two examples of Diegetic Business, and entrepreneurs of cultural criticism are The Yes Men and Natalie Jerimijenko’s “Environmental Health Clinic.”

The Yes Men are a group of over 300 culture jammers. They impersonate leaders and big corporations in order to publicly humiliate them while raising dialogue around the wrong-doings we often forget about. Most recently, The Yes Men executed a prank known as Coal Cares™, a fictional non-profit that posed as an initiative of Chevron.

 Coal Cares™ is a brand-new initiative from Chevron, one of America’s proud family of coal companies, to reach out to American youngsters with asthma and to help them keep their heads high in the face of those who would treat them with less than full dignity. For kids who have no choice but to use an inhaler, Coal Cares™ lets them inhale with pride. (http://coalcares.org/)

A Diegetic Business, Coal Cares™ had the mission of making coal cool for kids, providing some very exciting inhalers. They even had one with Justin Beiber on it. So why is this a Diegetic Business as opposed to a Fictional Enterprise? Coal Cares™, and the rest of The Yes Men’s work goes beyond the imaginary by brining fictional personas and products into a society as a way to shift culture. These projects are Diegetic because they exist as operating businesses that have roots in the imaginary, but are able to maintain the social and critical values through the threshold of “real.” They are an artifact – extracted from a story. How can a simple object, a result of critical-entrepreneurial thinking, use charm and humor to communicate a profound cultural issue?

Natalie Jerimijenko takes existing models and re-mixes them to raise dialogue around social and environmental dialogue. Jerimijenko’s business, The Environmental Health Clinic, operates as any other health clinic would, but instead of coming to this particular clinic with your own health issues, you come to it to discuss the health of your environment. After their consultation, visitors of the clinic are given tools for water sampling to understand the state of their water supply raise, and raise their issues with people of office.

The Environmental Health Clinic is a Diegetic Business that begins to engage a culture by giving them real, working, products to both educate and empower them to raise their own dialogue and start their own initiatives around environmental issues. The bizarre nature of their sampling tools immediately provokes questioning from the peers around them – this creates a model which uses diegetic artifacts to tell the story to others, and watch it spread virally throughout the city.

“These bespoke futures go beyond profit and loss statements, to create an opportunity space for the imagination, enabling individuals and independent groups to create visions of the future that inspire them. The point is to move from P&L to V&F—profit and loss to vision and futurity—from ROI to ROV –the Return on Investment to a Return on Vision.” (Lunenfeld)

The key to creating a Utopian vision of the future is community engagement and the collective agreement of the masses. As Peter Lunenfeld highlights in his book, “The Secret War of Downloading and Uploading,” a Dystopian vision, “Mutants in the Rosebowl,” is the default answer from designers of the future because utopia can not be agreed upon. Utopia is different for every individual, like a fingerprint, no one person’s perception of utopia can ever be the same and another’s. Dystopia, on the other hand, is widely agreed upon. How can we start planning for a more ideal future, designing one that we would actually appreciate engaging in dialogue around? How can we, as designers of the future, design utopia for a wide demographic that extends beyond ourselves? How can an entrepreneurial method / approach to thinking engage a wide audience, or at least one that is bigger than ourselves?

But non-fiction is not enough.

People are a critical force behind the evolution of a diegetic business to a non-non-fiction business. Employees, innovators, consumers – people. People are needed to share the visions – to create a collective ideal, to be collective entrepreneurs, and to “make it real.”

Works Cited:

  1. – Kay, Alan. “Predicting The Future.” Ecotopia, 20 May 2011. <http://www.ecotopia.com/webpress/futures.htm&gt;
  2. – McCluhan, Marshall. Quoted in “Predicting The Future.” Alan C. Kay, Ecotopia. 20 May 2011. <http://www.ecotopia.com/webpress/futures.htm&gt;
  3. – The Yes Men. “Coal Cares™.” 30 May. 2011. <http://www.coalcares.org&gt;