Instruction on Demand

Have you ever tried to put together a greenhouse? Within a greenhouse? Now, I don’t mean those small ones in plastic but a big one in aluminium. Didn’t think so. But I have! Tried, that is.

My parents bought a greenhouse construction from Skånska Byggvaror. It’s a beautiful and ingenious little house in aluminium and it will provide much joy in the future, I’m sure. However, the manual must have been put together by a sadist. Or at least an engineer without any knowledge of usability testing. If only someone had taken the time to test the instructions by letting ordinary people put together all the millions of mostly unmarked pieces with the minute tools. I was sad to see that nothing much had happen since 1996 when I published my PhD thesis, including a study on user manuals.

My Mother had another angle. She suggested, a true entrepreneur, that we should advertise on the Internet now that we knew how to put together this specific model, recognising the market for greenhouse construction support. I suddenly had an epiphany and saw a range of IT-based instructional services on the same theme. Taka a photo of the section you are having trouble with, call us and we send you a short instructional video to help you. If you need personal support, make a video call and show us what is puzzling you and we will talk you through it.

You could also access our self-support site where proud greenhouse owners have made their own videos showing how they put together their houses. We could use tools like Bambuser or Mogulus to create mobile TV-channels with edutainment where we let celebrities compete on how to go from opening of the boxes to putting the last glass into its frame using as little time as possible, a bit similar to Gordon Ramsey’s cook along live show. More tricky situations will be introduced after a couple of seasons (like building a greenhouse within a greenhouse) and unlikely teams in order to create more drama. I’m sure it will result in quite a large number of hours to watch with funny (and dangerous) situations, including arguments bordering on domestic violence (no, we did not get that far, only to some verbal abuse).

This kind of service is a kind of antithesis of making the construction parts intelligent, telling you how to put them together, something researchers have been into for some years creating proactive furniture through augmented reality.

The lyrics of the Goo Goo Dolls song “Iris” includes the line “When everything’s made to be broken, I just want you to know who I am”. Maybe it should be changed into to “When everything’s made to give rise to additional and expensive services, we just want to know who you are”. This reminds me that I should finish my blog post on e-identity I have been working on for some time.


Scope of Control

On Sundays I attend an aerobics class at my local Friskis&Svettis, an excellent non-for-profit health club. It’s a dance class where we move to a very varied string of tunes: hip-hop, tango, Eurovision Song Contest melodies, house, Robbie Williams, Michael Jackson, Sonja Aldén, Bollywood songs, Latin American rhythms, Swedish pop...

I’m as agile as a safe, as we say in Sweden, but I like it a lot. And I’m not alone in this, which means there is a whole room full of rather stiffly moving people with happy grins on their faces trying to move gracefully to the music. Partly because of our non-agile condition and partly because of our instructors’ choreography this looks rather comical and the children looking at us often have a huge laugh.

Surely neither the composer nor the artist had this application in mind for their music. They might even become upset could they see us. But how much influence can you have on your work once it is released to the public?

Samuel Beckett gave very precise instructions on how his play “Waiting for Godot” should be played. He even took legal action against a group of women for playing the characters, since Beckett was very strict on that only men should be in the play.

I saw the play a month ago, at the premier at Göteborg Stadsteater. My uncle Henric is the director so of course I’m a bit biased when I say I thought it was really great. However, not only the audience thought so too but also a string of critics from newspaper such as Svenska Dagbladet and Dagens Nyheter, and also the national radio Sveriges Radio. The local newspaper Göteborgs-Posten was a little cooler in the response, claiming a lack of reference to modern day society. I find that a bit strange since I think the play is very much about general aspects of what it is like to be a human being in terms of our need for relations and recognition, but also since Beckett does not leave much room for such references.

Another key message is that in the unknown there is hope. Thank you Henric for making me see that!


Economical Drama

While waiting in the harbour for the speedboat to Koh Kood, an economical drama developed before our eyes. A silent war took place between the young Nestlé ice cream salesman and his more senior opponent from Unilever. In contrast to the conflict in Thailand between the yellow and the red, this was a battle between the blue and the red.

In spite of a bad cold, the blue were getting more of the market, maybe because he was under a tree in the shadow. The red was positioned closer to the café where a lot of the potential customers were hovering, waiting for the boat to arrive. However, his bright red motorbike was in the merciless sun. Since I like to encourage competition, I bought a Magnum from the red when he showed signs of giving up. He let me have the ice cream, and then moved across the road into the shadow. The blue then gave me the evil eye and immediately moved into the vacant space. A nice kind of illustration of first-mover advantage versus the benefits of being the fast second.

In these times of economical crisis, we need to learn more quickly and also come up with more novel ideas. According to researcher Barbara Fredrickson, discrete positive emotions broaden the scopes of attention and cognition and lead to a widened array of thoughts and action impulses in the mind. So how about designing positive learning environments? In folk high schools pedagogical drama is often successfully used and it is even possible to study the topic at Malmö University. Another creative combination of art and science is the concept of dialogue seminars, applied in many contexts including the Swedish National Defence College.

But my favorite educational concept is that of simulations. My friend Kristofer Erlandsson has developed several simulations for example one where you practice innovation system development and another where you get a better understanding of the works of the EU. Right now he is running several workshops in Europe called Road Map simulation, helping companies to develop business strategies.

Wouldn´t it be nice if we could develop a new art/science called Economical Drama? There we could act out wicked problems related to financial and climate challenges, based on scientific knowledge. A group of decision-makers could be assigned different roles in order to learn to understand other perspectives. Let the capitalist play the role of the WWF president, let the industrialist become the new Fair Trade Executive, let the scientist try on the Current TV journalist’s shoes, and make WTO and World Bank executives do a swap.

Another application would be to simulate a funding committee in an incubator with a mission of sustainable funding. It could be inspired by UNEP’s Financial Initiative (thank you Milton Lore for this gem) or the Swedfund’s good results.

I’m going to the National Business Incubation Association conference in Kansas City in a few weeks. Maybe I should launch the idea then and there…