I don’t always agree with Umair Haque, a Harvard economist, though many of his ideas resonate with my own experience on the web. And I can imagine that much of his message comes across as rather radical to his audience, so I’ll cut him some slack if he has a tendency to wax revolutionary when he talks about the social web.
Still, I find his “Awesomeness Manifesto” actually useful, if only because it’s an argument against innovation as we commonly think of it.
His point echos a common refrain among many of the web’s independent progeny of late (consider Tim O’Reilly’s “work on stuff that matters” first principles, including the invocation to “create more value than you capture”, and 37 Signals’ recent rants on the “VC-induced cancer that’s infecting our industry and killing off the next generation“). As it happens, innovation for the sake of itself can really be rather damaging if we never arrive at a point of stability and equilibrium — enabling us to benefit from — or at least consider in a broader context — the advances we’ve made.
In other words, innovation at all costs is just that: at all costs.
To counter this myopic obsession with the superficially novel, Haque describes four pillars of awesomeness (which I won’t detail here — read his post):
These are much more squishy, feminine qualities. These traits show up where diversity and balance are valued. But, contrary to Haque’s implicit suggestion, I don’t believe that we should just pendulum in this direction. Instead, like kneading bread or stirring a risotto (can you tell Brynn and I’ve been cooking lately?), I believe that we need to constantly pay attention to and work at this mix. It’s not one or the other — we’re post-zero sum economics even if our definitions of success haven’t caught up yet.
Haque closes thusly:
Let’s summarize. What is awesomeness? Awesomeness happens when thick — real, meaningful — value is created by people who love what they do, added to insanely great stuff, and multiplied by communities who are delighted and inspired because they are authentically better off. That’s a better kind of innovation, built for 21st century economics.
I’ve talked to many boardrooms about awesomeness. Beancounters feel challenged and threatened by it, because it feels fuzzy and imprecise. Yet, it’s anything but. Gen M knows “awesomeness” when we see it — that’s why its part of our vernacular. It’s a precise concept, with meaning, depth, and resonance.
What makes some stuff awesome and other stuff merely (yawn) innovative? I’ve outlined my answers, but they’re far from the best, or even the only ones — so add your own thoughts in the comments.
You might be innovative — but are you awesome? For most, the answer is: no. Game over: in the 21st century, if you’re merely innovative, prepare to be disrupted by awesomeness.
Does Haque’s manifesto resonate with you? If so, how? If not, why not?