Diversify, Diversify Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2013-06-23 14:00:00 No comments

Stumbling and Mumbling: On ideology

A better person than me (and everybody else) once said that "culture is what you don’t notice.” The same is true for what is much the same thing, ideology. I was reminded of this by Hopi's proposal that the Independent open a chain of coffee shops on the grounds that Indy readers love their coffee shops.

... consider what's wrong with the idea. Quite simply, it's that newspapers don't know how to run coffee shops. The Indy won't run coffee shops for ther same reason that Starbucks won't start producing tablets and smartphones even though their customers love them - they don't know how to do so.

But why can't they simply buy in such expertise? They could, but they have no more ability to identify and monitor such expertise than anyone else. For this reason, it is very rare for companies to diversify successfully out of declining industries. They are trapped by their vintage of organizational capital, by their culture.

Emphasis mine. This whole business of being trapped by unquestioned assumptions about what you can and can't do is humbling when you finally do stare it in the face. Creative folks are just as much victims of these limitations as anyone else.

One of the theories I have about why so many self-published books look terrible, for instance, is because many people simply don't know what good design looks like, how to identify it, or how to reproduce it. A good deal of that can be overcome with training and experience, but there's a reason people go to art school for years to learn this stuff. Plus which, going to something labeled "art school" removes a lot of the ambiguity from whether or not the instruction and advice you get is worthwhile.

Then comes an even harder decision: coming to a compromise between what looks good by the standards of the rest of the market, and what you actually like. And again, taste can be problematic here. What you like might well be at odds with what works to make your book look salable to others. That hand-painted cover you think looks endearing might simply look like a childish scrawl to the uninitiated.

What makes these things harder for creative endeavors, as opposed to businesses, is that the definition for success is a lot more open-ended. If you go broke in business, that's clearly a failure, but a book that sells only a few copies to the right people (if that's all you made) is successful. So it's not always obvious that you know, or don't know, what's best for yourself or what the market you're trying to address really wants, if it even exists at all.

Small wonder so many people just default to commercial success as the metric for success. It's the least ambiguous one of the bunch.

Tags: creativity culture education learning sociology