Chinese Democracy

Chinese Democracy looks set to be the most delayed and expensive album in history: a rumoured $US13 million recording budget, 5 guitarists, 14 studios and a horde of Pro Tools digital editors.  I’m not exactly a Guns n’ Roses fan but I bought the album anyway for the CD booklet: a list of production credits for the massively overrun project.  For the project’s background see Wikipedia’s CD history page and Jeff Leeds’ article “The Most Expensive Album Never Made” (New York Times, 6th March 2005).

Interesting that Axl Rose augmented the Best Buy-only release with a MySpace streaming strategy and that Amazon.com’s top search today for “Chinese Democracy” is Metallica‘s Death Magnetic (Elektra, 2008) . . . Rose’s CD is ninth on the search algorithm’s list.

I’m saving most of my thoughts on Chinese Democracy for a journal article. 

Former Gn’R co-founder Slash in his autobiography Slash (HarperEntertainment, New York, 2007), co-written with Anthony Bozza, has a prescient and interesting anecdote (p. 371) on Rose’s decision to use Pro Tools in the recording studio:

There were rows and rows
of Pro Tools servers and gear.  Which was a clear indication that Axl
and I had very different ideas of how to do this record.  I was open to
using Pro Tools, to trying new things–but everyone had to be on the
same page and in the same room to explore new ideas.  The band managed
to do a little bit of jamming and come up with some things.  A couple
of the ideas I had come up with Axl apparently liked and they were
recorded onto Pro Tools and stored for him to work on later.

We’d show up at different times every evening, but by eight p.m.
generally everyone in the band would be there.  Then we’d wait for Axl,
who, when he did come, arrived much, much later.  That was the norm; it
was a dark, miserable atmosphere that lacked direction of any kind.  I
hung out for a bit; but after a few days I chose to spend my evenings
at the strip bar around the corner, with orders for the engineers to
call me if Axl decided to arrive.

1st December 2008: Two Examples of Waking Sleep

The Graeco-Russian philosopher George Gurdjieff argued in the early 20th century that humanity lives much of its life in a form of waking sleep.  This all sounds very theoretical — Gurdjieff was the subject of one of my first four dossiers in 1998 for Disinformation and a 2001 undergraduate essay — but the right circumstances can drive his point home with clarity.

This past weekend provides two examples apart from the Mumbai siege.  In the first, Jdimytai Damour an agency temp was trampled to death at a Wal-Mart sale in Long Island, New York, on Black Friday, 28th November 2008.  Associated Press coverage quotes Kimberly Cribbs that customers acted like “savages”.  The New York Times blamed the media for creating unrealistic expectations about Black Friday sale bargains: the catalyst for a mania.  In the second, Sydney’s Glebe Coroner’s Court has held an inquest into Emma Hansen’s death: Hansen was a pedestrian accidentally killed in 2007 by learner driver Rose Deng, who is still permitted to drive by Australian authorities.  Both incidents illustrate on a micro-scale Gurdjieff’s Law of Accident or Law of Hazard (“when an event happens without the lines of the events we observe”).

For two overviews of Gurdjieff’s philosophy see Richard Smoley‘s introduction to Gnosis Magazine’s special issue here and John Shirley‘s essay The Shadows of Ideas.  I also recommend Shirley’s book Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Ideas (Tarcher, San Francisco, 2004) and his DVD commentary as co-scriptwriter for Alex Proyas’ dark gothic masterpiece The Crow (1994), infamous for another Law of Accident case: Brandon Lee‘s accidental death during a film stunt.

Mumbai Siege: The Hunt for the Perpetrators

Counterterrorism analysts search for answers as the official death toll from Mumbai’s siege rises to 183 people.  We now enter Susan Moeller‘s second stage of post-terrorist attacks: the hunt for the perpetrators and seeking justice.  See my October 2001 analysis here on the September 11 aftermath and Henry Rollins’ reaction in New York City.

Slate‘s Anne Applebaum observes that we don’t yet know much about the group that carried out the attacks.  Applebaum’s analysis echoes Walter Laqueur‘s ‘new terrorism’ thesis in the mid-to-late 1990s: attempts at mass casualty attacks, tactics from the guerrilla and insurgency playbook, an ideological mix, and groups that either do not claim credit or who are not on the radar of counterterrorism analysts.  Applebaum captures Gregory Treverton‘s distinction between solvable ‘puzzles’ and potentially unsolvable ‘mysteries’ in intelligence analysis.

“The particulars of the attacking group are unknown; the
political-military equation from which the group has almost certainly
arisen is not,” notes The New Yorker‘s Steve Coll.  The most plausible hypotheses for Coll and other counterterrorism experts are: (1) Pakistan’s intelligence services may have funded the group in a clandestine/proxy war with India; or (2) the group emerged as an autonomous cell that was ideologically motivated by the clandestine/proxy war.  Coll explains why at this early stage the Mumbai siege is closer to Treverton’s ‘mysteries’:

If past investigations into such groups prove to be any guide, it may
be difficult to find clear-cut evidence of direct involvement by
Pakistani intelligence or army personnel. This is because Pakistan,
knowing the stakes of getting caught red-handed, has increasingly
pursued its clandestine proxy war against India in Kashmir and on the
Indian mainland through layers and layers of self-managing and
non-state groups. The Pakistani government and its domestic Islamist
proxies, including nominally peaceful charities based in Pakistan but
with operations in Kashmir, almost certainly pass through money and
weapons on a large scale. They do so, however, in such a way that is
very difficult to trace these supplies back to the government.

Applebaum highlights the epistemological challenges that counterterrorism analysts face; Coll offers some guidance on how to conduct an investigation on the basis of ‘contingent’ beliefs and alternative hypotheses.

Pakistan’s government denies any role
in the Mumbai attacks.  Perhaps forensic analysis of crime scene
evidence will provide answers and shift the current speculation from
Treverton’s ‘mystery’ to ‘puzzle’.  Or maybe not.

The next day Coll analyses India’s claim that the group Lashkar-e-Taiba was behind the Mumbai attack.

Polly Borland’s Untitled III

A few months ago publisher Ashley Crawford (of 21C and World Art fame) asked me to contribute to a Photofile Magazine roundtable about a mysterious bunny image.  I sent Ash a brief piece with in-joke references to the Discordianism movement, the horror author H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Adams’ novel Watership Down, intelligent design, and the 1977 hoax Alternative 3 (in Photofile #84, Summer 2008, p. 60).  It was a lot of fun.  The image turned out to be Polly Borland‘s Untitled III (2004-04), and private collector David Walsh now curates a billboard version in Melbourne, Australia.

15 Years In The Wilderness

Actor Mickey Rourke is an Oscar favourite for his Method role in Darren Aronofsky‘s The Wrestler (2008).  Press coverage focuses on Rourke’s rise-and-fall: how his bad boy image led to onset difficulties in the late 1980s, a bitter breakup with model Carre Otis, and living humiliated, destitute and largely forgotten by the mid-1990s.  Arrogance, self-loathing, and rejecting offers for roles in later blockbusters all played a part in Rourke’s banishment to straight-to-video films.  He has waited 15 years in the wilderness before a career turnaround.

The Guardian‘s Carole Cadwalladr captures this destructive career arc in a poignant interview in which Rourke examines his poor decisions and their impact.  It’s as if Marlon Brando had coauthored Sidney Finkelstein’s study Why Executives Fail (Portfolio, New York, 2003): see Finkelstein’s homepage, the book’s website, and a video lecture.  Rourke admits to many of the communication problems, career-blocking moves and blow-ups that Allen N. Weiner identifies in his book So Smart But . . . (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2006).
I reflected on Cadwalladr’s profile for a week: Rourke has insights about why star performers can blow-up.  And then Pat Jordan of The New York Times decided to do some fact-checking with others after an interview with Rourke.  What emerges from Jordan’s investigation is a far more nuanced view of Rourke’s anecdotes and self-narratives to Cadwalladr and other journalists.  “He has spent his entire adult life playing not fictional characters but an idealized delusional fantasy of himself,” Jordan observes.  Maybe so, but Cadwalladr and Jordan have both written detailed and emotive portraits of Rourke who now could have a fourth act: following Finkelstein and Weiner on the corporate seminar circuit on how not to make decisions that destroy careers and reputations.

Neil Chenoweth’s 2008 Walkley Award for Business Journalism

Congratulations to forensic journalist Neil Chenoweth and his colleagues on their 2008 Walkley Award for Business Journalism: an investigation into the failed stockbrokers Opes Prime.

I interviewed Chenoweth in 2002 for a Masters paper on Rupert Murdoch’s negotiation strategies.  During our talk, Chenoweth gave me a couple of “aha!” moments on how to conduct a forensic journalism investigation, Murdoch’s use of game theory to understand other parties in a deal, and the murky underworld of cable and satellite television.

Chenoweth writes regularly for the Australian Financial Review, an Antipodean equivalent of the pre-Murdoch Wall Street Journal.  Chenoweth’s Virtual Murdoch: Reality Wars on the Information Superhighway (Secker & Warburg, London, 2001), published in the US with new material as Rupert Murdoch (Random House, New York, 2004) chronicles his decade-long investigation into the world’s most powerful media mogul.  Read a chapter-by-chapter summary here.  Chenoweth’s book Packer’s Lunch (Random House, Sydney, 2006), reviewed here, also has substantial research on Sydney’s corporate dealmakers in the 1990s and their Swiss bank accounts.

A Challenging Conversation on Integral Futures

The Journal of Futures Studies (Tamkang University, Taiwan) has published a ‘trialogue’ on Integral Futures between colleagues Josh Floyd, Jose Ramos and myself.

The trialogue is an exploratory method that the late ethnobotanist Terence McKenna used at the Esalen Institute and Omega Institute to cocreate new knowledge informed by interdisciplinary expertise.  McKenna’s trialogues featured mathematician Ralph Abraham and biologist Rupert Sheldrake.  More recently, Erik Davis and Douglas Rushkoff have continued the tradition.  The theoretical physicist David Bohm developed a similar method for dialogue and group work.

Floyd, Ramos and I discussed this approach in February-April 2006 after taking three different
iterations of Advanced Professional Praxis a ‘capstone’ project unit in
Swinburne University’s Strategic Foresight program.  Richard Slaughter provided a focal point as he assembled papers for a special issue of the journal Futures (Elsevier) on Integral Futures Methodologies (November, 2007).  For over a decade, Slaughter had synthesised a Futures knowledge base of new frameworks, methodologies and visions.  Informed by Ken Wilber‘s Integral vision, Slaughter proposed Integral Futures as a “broader and deeper” horizon for Futures work.  Wilber and Slaughter galvanised a new cohort of practitioners to develop new Integral Futures methodologies.  Yet new creative horizons may create new problems.

How can Integral Futures practitioners be ethically informed about their new methods?  Our trialogue proposes Embodied Foresight as one possible way to achieve this: the cultivation of ethical sensitivity, situation awareness about the Teacher-Student relationship and pedagogical barriers, and self-reflection on the transformative potential of initiatory knowledge and wisdom traditions.  Or, “foresight-in-context” may anticipate and prevent hazards that might have unforeseen consequences.

The trialogue creates a space for each of us to bring theoretical frameworks and practitioner reflections into the discussion.  Floyd brings expertise in Zen Buddhism, cognitive science and phenomenology, and a familiarity with Wilber and Evan Thompson‘s research.  Ramos brings transcultural experiences in Futures, action research, and postcolonial insights on “model monopolies”.  I added some insights from mid-1990s exploration of the Gurdjieff Work and the Temple of Set, and experiences during Masters studies, publishing and research projects.

From our trialogue’s conclusion:

Embodied Foresight offers some emergent solutions for the individual practitioner to the challenges and difficulties of Integral Futures practice. These reflexive ‘problems’ are part of diffusion, initiation and knowledge transfer in many wisdom traditions. Our ‘trialogue’ has raised several ‘reflexive’ problems-from Teacher-Student relationships and pedagogical barriers to the archetypal dangers of Phobos and Thanatos-that each of us has personally experienced within the Futures Studies community and in other initiatory and wisdom traditions.

CPRF08 Paper: Disruptive Innovation, Radiohead & Nine Inch Nails

I recently blogged about a presentation the 2008 Communications Policy Research Forum in Sydney on disruptive innovation in the music industry.

You can now download an Adobe PDF version of the PowerPoint slides here.

The refereed paper has been published in the Proceedings of the Communications Policy Research Forum 2008 (pp. 155-175 or PDF file pp. 179-199).  You can also download a local copy of the paper here.

The paper’s case study examines why Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails released their new albums as digital downloads.  I suggest a major reason why, and one that was overlooked by Web 2.0 pundits, is that each artist was in the ‘label shopping phase’ of a new contract and defected after negotiation problems with their major labels.  This fits a pattern in mergers and acquisitions: the major labels lost artists due to integration problems in a merger or acquisition.  Terra Firma Capital Partners has since partially confirmed this hypothesis: the private equity firm endures more post-acquisition integration problems with EMI and is fighting against government regulation of Great Britain’s financial services sector.

The paper’s data appendices contrast the artists’ strategies with signficant events and innovations in music industry contracts, conglomerate mergers and deal structures.  Somehow I missed U2‘s March 2008 deal with Live Nation: I found out about it in an October 2008 announcementGuns n’ Roses also finally released Chinese Democracy (MySpace audio stream): a new album that has taken 15 years, a rumoured US$14 million budget and 14 recording studios in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and London.  I may write a paper on it . . .

Efficiency Perils in Global Food Markets

The New Yorker‘s James Surowiecki provides an overview of volatility in the global food market.  Three insights emerge for me:

(1) Differences between policymakers and food security experts at the problem diagnosis stage may have complicated the implementation of structural adjustment programs.  Food security poses solutions that are potentially counterintuitive to policymakers: the former will value food stocks to ensure stability in sovereign nation-state the international political economy whereas the latter may prioritise food flows for international trade, to hedge commodities and currency risks.  Surowiecki explores a contemporary scenario of potential market failure due to demand-supply, pricing and other distortions with the allocation mechanisms.

(2) David Ricardo‘s theory of comparative advantage – in which each nation specialises in the efficient production of goods and services to trade with others for maximum payoff – may not be scalable in its simple form to a complex, interconnected and global system.  Surowiecki’s analysis suggests tha the over-reliance on a few countries for specific foods will undermine the global system’s resilience and capacity to cope with exogenous shocks and volatility.

(3) Paramaters for investor and market models of the global food market using Vensim simulation software: production supply, demand volatility, pricing, subsidies/tariffs, stocks and flows, and leverage points.  Undertake different short- and long-run simulations noting the role of capacities, dynamics and thresholds, and the impacts of exogenous shocks and volatility.

Value Chain 2.0 Precursors

Paul Roberts has an interesting post on Value Chain 2.0: the use of Web 2.0 methodologies and platforms in value chain analysis, process redesign and supply chain management (SCM).

Value Chain 2.0 transformations actually predate Tim O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 term but this is largely hidden from non-domain experts.  One reason why is the historical influence of engineering and mechanistic models on public perceptions of SCM.  Logistics, operations and industrial economics all moulded Michael Porter‘s value chain model.  Mainframe interfaces shaped SAP‘s materials management and enterprise resource planning systems.  A climate of downsizing and recessions influenced how business leaders applied Michael Hammer and James Champy‘s business process reengineering.  SCM has evolved yet the public perceptions remain.

There’s a broader context and history to Value Chain 2.0 that some Web 2.0 descriptions may not do justice to.  Some of the more well-known examples: Eric von Hippel cast the die in The Sources of Innovation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988) about 3M‘s ideation, innovation and new product development processes; von Hippel elaborated on discussions which occurred since the mid-1970s.  SAP and other ERP vendors have had end-user case studies in conferences for over a decade.  Dell‘s dotcom era choiceboard for consumers to customise their orders meant more efficient throughput and higher inventory turnover.  Lego Mindstorms builds on decades of insights in constructivist learning and robotics.  Procter & Gamble‘s Connect + Develop initiative reflects P&G’s expertise in brand development and consumer goods marketing, and leverages decade-long trends in knowledge management and information systems.  This suggests a deep history or a path dependence to many ‘new new’ Web 2.0 cases and trends.

Perhaps Value Chain 2.0’s initial contributions are to make these initiatives more explicit to non-domain experts and to provide an accessible interface for consumers.