10 January 2012

Here Comes Clay Shirky

This is it: my final post in my irregular "What I highlighted and why while reading Clay Shirky's  Here Comes Everybody" series:
"Open source doesn't reduce the likelihood of failure, it reduces the cost of failure; it essentially gets failure for free."

Shirky, chapter 8, p. 246

"...in a world where anyone can try anything, even the risky stuff can be tried eventually."
"In the open source world, trying something is often cheaper than making a formal decision about whether to try it."

Shirky, chapter 8, p. 249
There's an important point here about the sunk cost of failure - when you've spent a ton of time and money studying whether or not to try something and discussing whether or not to try something, if you finally do decide to try it, there's that much more pressure to succeed. Not only do you need the thing itself to work, but you need it to work well enough to make up for the opportunity cost of all the time you spent discussing and studying and dithering.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying (and I don't think Shirky is either) you should always just go with your gut and only your gut, data and debate and consideration be damned. But what if we flipped the decision model? Instead of killing ideas and energy and momentum with study after study and piles of data, what if we decided by doing a broad survey of the available information, going with our intuition on the right decision, and only if failure is sufficiently costly, do a deeper data dive for quantitative support of our decisions.

I think this would get us to faster, and I'd like to argue, better decisions. If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten. Data can get you to the decisions that are an extension of what you're already doing, but it can't get you to the imaginative leap you need to make for capital C-hange and capital I-nnovation.

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