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Joe,

You make some very good points about the importance of novelty and how discovery plays an important role in our evolution and the evolution of our thinking.  I’m not sure, however, that I’m ready to demonize algorithms as killing novelty.  I think Jeffrey’s comment on your post made a great point that perhaps these algorithms are actually freeing up more time for discovery, should we chose to use the time in that way.  It’s in that choice where the problems lies.

The important question that arisen for me in this discussion is this: Are we losing our ability to think creatively and critically?  The discussion about algorithms on Amazon is a pretty non-threatening one because we are talking about shopping.  But, what about what’s happening related to how we consume news in this country.  It used to be that you could turn on the news and expect to be given the news of the day in an unbiased and largely consistent manner across news outlets.  The way one news provider outdid another was by breaking a story first.  Today, our news comes neatly packaged together with guidance on how we should think about it.  Better than that, if you have a particular political or ideological bias, you can watch a news channel entirely devoted to you–24 hours a day of news and guidance on what to think about what’s happening.  We don’t even have to go to the trouble of determining what the news means anymore, it’s already decided for us.  We just have to decide what flavor of bias suits us best.

I don’t know.  I don’t think it’s the algorithms at Amazon that’s killing us.  I think we are losing our ability to think critically about the world around us.  Long before Amazon, the crisis had begun.  We are programmed in our schools to trust adults and follow the rules.  And we get punished when we don’t obey these directives.  But yet, we live in a world that is changing so fast that our rules are constantly becoming outdated and irrelevant.  It’s the people like Mark Zuckerberg and the late Steve Jobs who are leading us into the future.  They are/were rule breakers.  They crushed conformity and changed our lives.  We need a generation of leaders who continually challenge the status quo, who stretch the rules, who hack the system.  Instead, I’m fearful that we are creating a generation that won’t know what to think until someone else tells them.

The exposure to novelty is important, but not nearly enough.  Somehow, we have to change the dynamics of our culture.  Instead of frowning on the outlier, the freak flag flier, we must celebrate that behavior.  Somehow, we have to find the courage to embrace those who dance at the edges and who push us in ways that aren’t comfortable.  But more than that, we need to find the discipline to question everything–channeling the curiosity of a two-year old–so that we might see the world again as it is, not as someone else has told us to see it.

Maybe what we need is a new manifesto.  A declaration to the world that we chose to see things differently, as they are, and then decide for ourselves what to make of it.  Here are few nominations for what might be included in this manifesto:

  • I will be relentlessly curious about why things happen.  I will accept nothing on face value.
  • Stop telling me what my opinion should be.  I’m done letting you manipulate me.
  • Everyday, I will seek to find a new experience or insight.  I cannot expand my mind without exposure to things I’ve never knew existed.
  • I will be the model of non-conformity.  I will authentically contribute more of myself to my work and relationships.
  • I will fly my freak flag-proud and out loud.  And I will defend your ability to do the same.
I just can’t escape that feeling that it’s time for a revolution–in our workplaces and in our lives.  It’s time to chose to live differently.  It times to chose to work differently.  It has to start with us and spread one person at a time until the discussion is no longer relevant.
Jason

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