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Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Nokia and value

This article intrigued me:

Being a close follower of developments in UGC (User-generated Content), the notion of value in handsets seem to have evolved. Functional value (making calls, communication), social value (texting, status), emotional value (style, look-and-feel) and now the value from content generated by externalities - UGC. Delivering value that is evolving is clearly a challenge for Nokia. Where Apple stumbled into UGC quite by accident through the iphone (talk to people in O2 in UK - they can tell you how unexpected it was), Nokia is now having to design to that value. How do you design for a value that is clearly an emergent property of a complex system of user interactions? a complex system, by its nature, is complex because the property exhibited by its components (the parts) is not the same as the property exhibited by the system (the whole). Can emergent property be deterministically designed? Is that not a contradiction?

The only way I see a system can be controlled is through interventions. The focus on Nokia should be to design the interventions, rather than trying to design the components. Yet, I see their focus is still on components - the perennial myth that if I get the components right and stick them together, the system would function beautifully. Sorry, Nokia, you would get Terminal 5. Focus on the right unit of analysis. It's the system, s*****!


  1. Irene,
    Under the article about Nokia in the Economist, you said that they should focus on the "interventions" rather than the components. I was wondering what you meant by "interventions?"

  2. Basically, a system is a group of components that are interacting, interrelated, and interdependent and that form a complex and unified whole. System often have unintended consequences - User generated content from mobile networks are an emerging property of the interaction of people and components in the system. The nature of systems is that it cannot be deterministically designed. But systems work on feedback. Feedback is information that returns to components (e.g. users on mobile networks) such that it influences that component's subsequent actions. So if you are teaching and you said something and the audience murmurs in confusion you'd explain yourself more so feedback changes how you (and a system) would behave (see why complex systems cannot be deterministic?). So if you want to 'steer' the right behavior of the system, you have to engineer the interventions i.e. how and where you would intervene in the system to steer it. hope that explains it!

  3. So do you suggest that when designing a system, one should come up with as many IF-THEN actions as there are IF situations that one can imagine ("IF they murmur, THEN explain again", "IF they fall asleep, THEN skip some bullet points"), and then continue to develop such an IF-THEN roster as and when system use unfolds?
    Reminds me of Darwinian mantra Seed, Select & Amplify in "It's alive" by Davis and Meyer.

  4. in a complex structured (deterministic) system, it might be possible to get a reasonable number of permutations but in complex adaptive systems, the permutations are infinite and not tractable. Stafford-Beer's viable systems model suggests ways to design reasonably adaptive systems although it's used often for organizations. There are different approaches out there in the field of cybernetics you might wish to read about. In fact, there are many out there who draw quite a bit of parallels between cybernetics and darwinism...