Tagged: Path Dependence

How hard is it to do something differently?

This week I went to Brighton CityCamp #ccbtn to hear about the progress the winning entries have made. I was also there to get valuable help and advice on how we can develop Gig Buddies so it becomes the obvious thing to do.

We got talking about how things change in organisations or, more accurately, why they don’t. And often, despite what people think are the levers for change being pulled, still nothing happens. Sometimes they just don’t appear to connect to anything despite what even those pulling them think. All this often when the reasons to change and do differently feel overwhelming. It feels like inertia, even obstructiveness, or that we’ve failed to convince people of the case for change and our ability to deliver it.

Today, as is often the case, serendipity stepped in, and I had a conversation with Dr Josh Siepel about Path Dependence and imprinting effects.  I wont cover the latter (yet) but the former explains how a set of decisions faced for any given circumstance is limited by the decisions made in the past, even though past circumstances may no longer be relevant. Often its applied to a phenomenon where an economic outcome is the result of a historical path or series of accidents rather than current market conditions. It helps explain VHS verses Betamax, the Qwerty verses the Dvorak keyboard, and Britain’s small coal wagons.  It helped me to understand why doing something very differently, despite the obvious benefits, can be hard for organisations to do. It explains why we can all be uncomfortable with even doing, what others may perceive as, small things differently.

On a basic level its why I still have discussions about why putting a link on the Home Page of a website today doesn’t really mean more people will see it as it would in the past. Despite the evidence (thanks Google Analytics) they will still argue it needs to happen. The circumstances of the web and therefore SEO tactics have changed. Things that worked brilliantly years or even months ago don’t work as well now. Search engines know how to weed out the obvious SEO tactics to get at the meat of a site’s content. Because of this, old SEO tactics are becoming less and less effective. But nonetheless that link needs to be on the Home Page because that’s what we used to do.

But knowing this – how does it help? A strategy is to find new combinations of existing ideas and work through how to present them as solutions – all the time resisting the temptation to revert back to a previous behaviour or solution because of the security and relative surety that offers. This may feel safer for those who have investment in how things have been done and see a very different way of doing things as just a step too far. Its an incremental strategy. However, the risk is also that an incremental approach takes too long to get to the rewards. What is true, whatever strategy is taken, is that finding new ideas requires a range of voices to exist, a pluralism that can be absent when the risk of doing something differently feels so alien and threatening. Pluralism comes with the potential benefit of making organisations, markets, and sectors more secure and innovative, more able to find an appropriate answer to changing demands (that begs the question – does this exist sufficiently in the public sector, or really are we just seeing market churn?).

This is the sort of pluralism that City Camp brings by putting together, businesses, community organisations and academia to reimagine the ways in which collaboration and web technologies will shape the future. Its the sort of pluralism that helps to do things differently.