Three little words

A few days ago, I was reading Chris Skinner’s then-latest post on the Financial Services Club’s blog, headlined Never Mind The Channels, Here’s the B&**&^ks. And agreeing, of course. We are connected not channelled, as I wrote in the Kernel For This Blog seven years ago. And yet, as Chris says, there are still many who try and recreate the segments and channels and isolations of the past, as if nothing has changed.

Yet so much has changed, and changed irrevocably.

I thought I’d try and summarise the changes in a small number of word dichotomies, just to see how they would play out. Depending on the comments I receive, I can always extend the list and, where required, expand on the explanations. So here are the first three:

AND not OR

Channel-like choices are about mutual exclusion. You can choose BBC or ITV. An MP3 file or a CD. A digital download or a DVD. A “pirate” copy or a “legal” copy. Mobile or fixed. Wireless or cellular. A or B. One or the other. Sometimes the choices are binary, sometimes there are a series of choices. But one way or the other, the product and hierarchy mindset tends to think about mutual exclusion.

Customers don’t think that way. Why would they? Mutual exclusion constrains their ability to derive value. Customers prefer to think about AND rather than OR. Customers may listen to an “illegal” download and then go buy the original. Start a conversation via SMS and pick up the phone and talk part way through the conversation. Invite someone to join in, then carry on after they leave. Have LPs, tapes, CDs and MP3s of songs, listening to the highest quality version that’s convenient to listen to at the time. Analog and digital, instant and delayed, original and copy, these dichotomies can be played out in the context of price, often as part of a spectrum. But that does not make them mutually exclusive.

AND not OR is about understanding abundances and scarcities. People listen to their free CD of Prince AND pay handsomely to see him perform in person. Digital copies of Prince’s music are abundant. But there’s only one Prince.


Doc Searls has written about this many times, as have I: we call this the Because Effect. When you deal with things that are scarce, you can make money with those things. Scarcity has value. If you have the only Penny Blue you can command your price. But scarcity is not the only way to make money. You can make money out of abundance as well. Linux is abundant. IBM used to make money with its operating systems. Then, when Linux came along, IBM saw a way of making money because of Linux rather than with it. There are many bloggers I know who don’t charge for their blog or allow any advertising. They don’t make any money with their blog. But they still make money because of their blogs.

BECAUSE not WITH is also about understanding abundances and scarcities.

WE not ME

George Bernard Shaw said something along the lines of “If I have an apple and I give you that apple, then you have an apple and I don’t have an apple. But if I had an idea and I give you that idea, then we both have that idea”. Information, and information-like digital goods, are often “extreme nonrival goods” in economic terms. When they are replicated and shared, they are able to be enjoyed by all and sundry. Over the last few decades, many of the things we’re involved with have become standardised and expressible in mathematical terms. Many financial instruments have become dematerialised; compute and storage power have both become virtualised; personal genomes have been modelled sufficiently and can now be sequenced and analysed, allowing us to model personalised medical treatment based around the individual genotype.

When something can be expressed mathematically, the ability to model it increases dramatically, as is the ability to simulate it. As we learn more about the world we live in, as we learn more about ourselves, we’re able to form better abstractions about our environment and our engagement with that environment. As we form better abstractions we’re able to develop standard ways of looking at things, of expressing things. As we develop those standards we’re able to model and simulate aspects of ourselves and of the world around us.

This has significant implications for us in terms of what we can achieve in health, in welfare, in education, in government.

But it needs us to share. It needs us to start each of these processes thinking open rather than closed, abundant rather than scarce, public rather than private. Shared rather than exclusive. WE not ME.

WE not ME is also about our understanding abundance and scarcity.

AND not OR. BECAUSE not WITH. WE not ME. These may seem trivial discussions at present, but in time to come they’re going to form the core of some very serious discussions; so far, the creation of artificial barriers around extreme nonrival goods has been about the amount of money people stand to make as a result of the barriers.

Soon, it will be about the number of people who live. Or die. Because the ideas will relate to how people can replicate medicines cheaply and efficiently; get access to drinking water safely and securely; grow sufficient food affordably and sustainably.

Humanity is about life and death. It is up to us to make sure it is not about life or death.


2 thoughts on “Three little words”

  1. “Customers prefer to think about AND rather than OR.”

    Except, of course, rather confusingly the logic gate meanings are the *reverse* of the every-day meanings of those two terms, where *only* all conditions being true triggers the AND gate, but *any* of the conditions may be true to trigger the OR gate. :)

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