It’s the Stupid, Idea

Mr. Che, the Revolutionary Dude

My man geof harries recently posted a question about how to kick-start a revolution over on yukonbiz.com.

It got me thinking about a long-standing itch of mine. The approach to too many problems starts and ends with technology, when any problem typically should at least begin with people and their needs (aka “requirements” to us analyst folk).

This is a typical response to any problem: go out and buy software. Or hardware. Or custom build an application. Or check out Wal-Mart for the latest self-wringing dish cloth when your hands get sore. Partly this is due to the psychological underpinnings of consumerist ideals in our society, but mostly it’s the geek in all of us: there’s got to be an automated, technology-based fix to this problem.

The problem mr. harries quandaries is narcissistic in nature: it’s a problem in search of itself. In other words, there isn’t really a problem (unless you count the Yukon as a problem in and of itself), it’s a method in search of a way to apply itself: I know how to do all this cool stuff, how should I apply myself?

I’m not picking on my man here, everyone has carried this attitude at some time or other: I just bought this great sewing machine, what shall I sew? I just got my degree, how shall I change the world? I just bought this new car, where shall I drive (other than work and back)?

I used to see this all the time when I worked at Northwestel. Requirements were either ill defined or completely absent and intelligent people would rush madly off in all directions seeking a way to apply this new software they’d just heard about. Rarely did the IT or Marketing folks talk to actual customers and try to figure out what they really wanted. It was all about how to apply this cool new product that the other telcos were into.

Which is what brings me to my next point: geof wonders how to make the Horse adapt to the concept of revolution as it applies to other political and geographic entities. How do we make our Yukon kin adopt the web as a force like all the other sods in the Big City?

Again, not dissin my man. What geof’s really wondering is: how do we shake up an apathetic mass of northerners to embrace this amazing medium called the web and appreciate it the way we devotees do? I know, cause I’ve asked that same question countless times myself. It’s a standard point of frustration northern developers deal with after they’ve had their umpteenth brilliant idea blasted by a moderate, risk-averse client.

Brilliant Developer: “[You ignorant sod,] can’t you see I’m suggesting the next Yahoo! to you? Can’t you see I’m breaking new ground in the way I’m going to build you a Date and Rates page?”

Boorish Client: “You sure sound like you know what you’re talking about but I just want it to be like in my brochure.”

Geof’s heart is in the right place, he’s looking out for the Yukon, making an earnest, concerted effort to dredge it up out of the soup of history it insists on drowning itself in. But, man, that’s not soup, that’s tar. You’re hauling on a fossil.

I question whether that’s the right approach.

First of all, do Yukoners really want to be salvaged? And more to the point: must a brilliant new Yukon-based idea be about the Yukon? This is what irritates me with the requirements for funding from the Yukon Technology Innovation Centre: any funded project has to be “about” the Yukon. Screw the Yukon. I have to live here, I don’t want to have to deal with it esoterically in my creative work.

I’m more of the mind that everything and anything we do as Yukon-based web developers can and should be about anything other than where we live.

Okay, to get down to brass tacks: there are two points I take issue with in geof’s quandary: first, that a revolution start with technological constraints. Second, that the revolution have anything to do with the Yukon.

I say, just find the brilliant idea. That we’re web developers, it’s likely that a solution to some as-yet-unidentified problem will hinge on a web implementation. But that the solution have anything explicitly to do with the Yukon itself is silly. Sure, it limits our funding options (the navel-gazing territorial government typically won’t fund anything that doesn’t celebrate 1890-whatever) but there’s plenty of venture capital flowing in the Real World.

It’s the idea, stupid. (That’s a figure of speech, I’m not referring to my man geof.)

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