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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Bart Simpson Effect

In an earlier post on the Red Queen Effect, I said that the Red Queen has now become an icon for a certain kind of energetic innovation - believing the impossible, accelerating and relentless change.

In his post Bart Simpson and Sun Tzu on Technology Strategy, the Redmonk analyst Stephen O'Grady identifies another paradoxical innovation strategy, which we could call the Bart Simpson effect.

In Episode 802 (production code 3F23) Bart Simpson has been placed in a remedial class for some reason. He spots a paradox. "Let me get this straight. We're behind the rest of our class and we're going to catch up to them by going slower than they are?"

Some of the greatest minds of all time were considered dull at school. Winston Churchill was not clever enough to do Latin, so he had to spend more time polishing his command of English instead. [Wikipedia: Churchill] And Albert Einstein was considered a slow learner. "He later credited his development of the theory of relativity to this slowness, saying that by pondering space and time later than most children, he was able to apply a more developed intellect." [Wikipedia: Einstein]

Perhaps there are some things you can only get when you do things slowly. Part of the problem with the school system is an obsession with speed. [See my previous piece Systems4Success]. Most parents fondly believe their children to be above average in intelligence, based on fluency, literacy, numeracy, for example an ability to follow the rules of school mathematics and solve average problems slightly faster than the other children [Wikipedia: Lake Wobegon Effect]. The dreamer who spends all day thinking deeply about a maths problem probably isn't going to get top marks at school. But mathematical genius is about depth rather than speed, wondering what happens when you change the rules.

Stephen points to the folly of trying to catch the competitors on their own terms. "For all of the bubble era or Web 2.0 talk of 'disruptive' technologies, you'd be surprised at just how many vendors we speak with who anticipate closing marketshare or other gaps by simply outexecuting or outperforming their competitors."

If everyone is trying to be bigger and faster, then why not try smaller and slower. If everyone is trying to be smarter, why not try wiser.

And break the rules.

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