One Button

Black and white. Good and bad. Right and wrong.

We all strive for simplicity – most of us anyway. And more and more you read and hear about people who have used the economic climate of the past year plus to “simplify” – as in take out the extraneous, and what in retrospect feels useless, and instead invest in those things that really add value and such to their life. Black and White….

So far so good. That is an insight – or is it?

The legendary Chairman of Sony in Japan, Akio Morita – who visualized the success of the Walkman when everyone else (including GE) used their “consumer insight” to kill the idea – once said: “The ideal consumer electronics device has only one button” – simplicity defined – Black and White.

Or is it?

Seems to me the truth is that the “one button” which presents to us as elegantly simple has behind it a most complex and intricate technology, which on its own, left to its technical developers, no doubt would never have presented itself as “one button” – think DOS to Windows 7 – My PC…

So the thought is that Black and White is never really Black and White, nor is it merely grey. Rather, more often than not, scratch the surface just a little and a riot of colors presents itself – and your insight, of simplicity, somehow gets lost in the cacophony.

The Internet is a great and growing example. On the one hand we marvel that we can access data and information anywhere at any time – stand on a street corner in Paris and find the time of the next showing of Avatar in Hong Kong. We have made the world smaller and ever smaller – erased time and distance and created the truly global view of the world.

The one-button thinking has led some to think that one size now fits all – since I can literally see just about everything, just about everywhere (those countries that still limit full, uncensored access aside), ergo I can now market and communicate more efficiently and effectively (for whom…?) with one campaign, one message, one program. WOW!!! Think of the money we save…

But – the smaller we have made the world, the more we have enabled the creation of silos, small communities, groups of like-minded people, and many with fierce local pride and its dark flip-side prejudice.

The Internet, at its best, is not a mass medium like TV that in fact can broadcast what it wants and in its former sheer weight and volume wear down the opposition, if you will.

On the one hand, it is more mass – in that its channels and sources are seemingly infinite. Yet the ability that I have to pick and choose, to search and share, to block and enable makes the experience as local and intimate as it gets. It’s mine – all mine. And your view of simplicity neglects the complex confluence of time, place, religion, economics, nationality, need, age – whatever that converge in a simple click – and therein lies the rub.

As I write this on a plane back from a meeting in Dubai (amazing!), I am also reminded of the Black and White we experience as people. Those who travel the “region” – and by region I mean the whole Middle East – know that what you experience from the 24/7 onslaught of news and opinion is rarely close to the truth.

The one-button view is of war and hatred and repression – and, yes, there is a lot of that…sadly. But scratch the surface and the story changes – yet we continue to swirl around the simple pictures, of our own making, continuously pressing that same button – no matter who or where we are – and it is ironically the same button.

Sadly, in our pursuit of simplicity and without the understanding of the complex thinking that goes behind that one button or that one click, we will never truly maximize the potential we have…

All of which leads me to this…listen:

Perception is strong and sight weak. In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things.Miyamoto Musashi

And there you have it.

Akio Morita was a true visionary. He looked out and brought the future in close, very close (Zune and iPod owe him big), but he also forced those who had their heads down squinting at their screens to look up and see the world as it could be.

So I might be able to get that movie time in Hong Kong while I am in Paris – but never forget that a minute later I’m eating a croissant at my new favorite local café (that I found through one of my Facebook friends and navigated to using my handset) engaged in heated discussion – as can only be had at a good French café – wondering why I was just barraged with messages about China and Chinese food in Paris….

You see you don’t know why I looked that up – do you?

What’s your view?

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