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Tarpits and Antiflocks (ribbonfarm.com)
46 points by andyraskin 6 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 4 comments





“Individually, each team’s approach is almost certainly wrong. But collectively they are doing the right thing. They are an antiflock, exploring a tarpit.“

Last week we were trying to find a solution to a tough product decision. Here is what we did: We asked 5 product designers to spend a week on it (we do this time to time and call it design week).

In the beginning they were pretty hopeless. They started trying different things. During the middle of the week, I met with them to see where they were. I was also pretty hopeless. But one of the designers found a way to solve the problem in an elegant way which also solved many other problems.

Here is the twist. We’d have never found that solution if we attacked the problem head on. Because this Designer wasn’t very familiar with that feature, she made a weird unexpected illogical change and that change opened the door for the accidental discovery of the good solution.


This somehow reminds me of an interesting tidbit in an old paper about the architecture of natural multi-agent systems such as ant colonies. Basically the resilience and reliability of the overall system is a result of agents not being "afraid" to fail. When ants look out for food, there is a chance a number of ants gets lost and starves; on the other hand, when a single ant finds a food source, the whole colony benefits from it. [1] Some VC firms operate in a similar way, if you think about it.

[1]: Parunak, H. Van Dyke. "Go to the ant": Engineering principles from natural multi-agent systems. Annals of Operations Research 75 (1997): 69-101.


Where do you work? Sounds like a great exercise. I can think of a few past employers who had much to gain from loosening the leash like that, but were too concerned with productivity to do so. Catch 22.

> That is why I pay attention to kooks and antiflocks. If you can explain precisely why something is impossible you’re halfway to making it possible after all. And if nothing else, kooks are really good at pulling those explanations out of you.

reminds me of https://aeon.co/ideas/what-i-learned-as-a-hired-consultant-f... , which i think is a pretty neat ethnography of the "crank"/pseudoscientist phenomenon.




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