Urgent Evoke

A crash course in changing the world.

Learn1 - Superstruct, Infrastruct, or Be Destroyed

Of the dozens of great snippets and words of wisdom on Dave Tait's collection of innovation tips, one of the core tips is best phrased by Zuckerman:

"Infrastructure can beget infrastructure."

It's so fundamental, several other tips are merely applications of this tip. There are a few ways to turn this abstract statement into a solid way of creating and evaluating your innovative idea.

Warning: I'm going to abstractly say "idea", "structure" and "infrastructure" repeatedly, but this is about cultural ideas and practices, economic ideas and practices, any social structures really. Think of real examples!

  1. The Basic Infrastructure. At the heart of it all is human psychology. Ideas that fail have often lost touch in development with human nature. Think about how we socialize, what we want and need to survive, about reputation, signaling, compassion, family, biases, the works. Always come back to these, always consider applicable people's realistic thought processes when you have an idea.
  2. Know Your Foundations. Will the current infrastructure support your idea? Almost all of Zuckerman's ideas are just this application rephrased ("Don’t fight culture", "Embrace market mechanisms", "Innovate on existing platforms", "What you have matters more than what you lack", all of them except for #5 in fact!) A few ideas on how to do this come to mind:
    1. Where do you think your idea would fail? Write out as many realistic scenarios as possible, and some unrealistic ones too. This is a totally essential step if you're going to understand why your idea will work.
    2. If the idea has been tried before, what infrastructure was the same in those cases? What infrastructure was different? Make a list or mindmap, compare and contrast infrastructure. Where did it succeed?
    3. If a different but related idea has been tried before, same questions.
    4. If your idea is utterly new and incomparable to anything else ever, do a trial run! Depending on urgency, resources etc., you might want to try testing some variations, and see if you can revisit questions b. and c.
    5. After all of this, write or rewrite what infrastructure you think your idea needs to work.
  3. Question Current Infrastructure. Are things going to suddenly change under your feet? The approach to answering this question is the same as above if you remember that your infrastructure rests on infrastructure itself!
    1. Can an existing function be done better? If you think so, go back to the previous questions. Key ideas: Robustness, effectiveness, interdependencies.
    2. Is a current structure stable? If not, you have an urgent call to replace it!
    3. If one structure changes, what else will change? Remember that the above/below distinction is usually artificial, though handy.
    4. Do structures support and defend each other? For instance, you might have difficulty changing a practice if it's deeply rooted in the culture, especially if it's closely tied to other practices deeply rooted in the culture!
  4. Destruct, Construct. Does the infrastructure seem just too broken? I'm talking about something like 3d, but much worse. This is the most case-specific type of situation. We could be talking about a corrupt political system, a set of poor practices backed by several areas of a local economy, an inability for people to see the big picture. Often anyone who tries to "fix" these problems is seen as meddling. All I can offer is this poor little list of a few things to keep in mind when creating a strategy:
    1. Education
    2. Power Redistribution
    3. Appeal to some infrastructure.
    4. Trojan Horses. By this I just generally mean strategies to work change indirectly where there is a defense mechanism against the direct approach. If you can't lecture directly on sex education, lecture on health in a culturally passable way, and add sex education in one of dozens of handouts. If you can't change the roles of women in a country suffering from sever gender inequality, work to empower the women by having conversations about other things.
    5. Disrupt. If your idea is powerful enough, it can change culture. If you think this is possible, refer to #1 and #2 again.
  5. Plan for Superstructing. The best ideas don't just improve lives, they make lives easier to improve further! #4 covered one way an idea can do this. Another way is for an idea to enable further ideas. Make a springboard for progress. Amy Smith's tips on making Transparent Technologies and Providing Skills are core strategies here, and surely there are more.
One more time: Human nature is the fundamental infrastructure, every idea (structure) is built on many others, you've got to be scientific about your own idea and the structures that exist, you might have to be indirect to make change, and you should make it easy for more ideas to be built on yours.

This is just a rough framework, but I'm sure there are other (and likely better) ways of looking at changing and building on infrastructure. If there are other posts of a similar nature, share them!

This applies to me in a dozen ways. I'm cooking up new ideas once a week, and always talking with people about their current projects. Something I'm always after is finding new ways to help ideas evolve. Urgent Evoke is a brilliant approach to that. I've been organizing an unconference thematically in tune with everything here, but it's been a learning experience. In a way, these are notes to my future self on how to make a better structure for making better structures for society!

Views: 15

Comment by Murray Sterley on April 1, 2010 at 8:35am
This is an awesome article you have written! Power vote your own evidence....
Comment by Jessica Gomes on April 1, 2010 at 8:52am
this is a brilliant piece of thinking. wow!! +1 for spark
Comment by Shakwei Mbindyo on April 1, 2010 at 8:58am
+1 Vision. Well thought out well written.
Comment by Nick Ernst on April 1, 2010 at 12:51pm
Thanks for the positive feedback!

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