"In the end, marketing (which causes much of the current problem) is the solution. Figuring out how to make your idea take root is essential..."

“In the end, marketing (which causes much of the current problem) is the solution. Figuring out how to make your idea take root is essential…”

This morning, I spent a couple of hours with an old friend who is a doctor. Over the years, we’ve gotten together to sift through some of my decision making. When I get clogged up, he helps me regain perspective.

When it comes to wisdom, it’s usually a one way street. That’s how mentoring works. The information flows from him to me. At least for the getting my head out of my derriere part of the conversation.

On other topics, the information flows from me to him.

Today, we talked about my DNA screening from 23andme. Anne Wojicki, the CEO is Sergy Brin’s wife. The company is commercializing DNA testing while building a massive library of inter-related genetic databases. They are figuring out how to do research where questions come after the data is collected.

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece about getting the results of my DNA tests. It was eye-opening. I learned that substantial parts of my personality are rooted in genetic predispositions. I learned that I am much more likely to suffer from deep vein thrombosis on a long flight.

Even more interesting was the experience I had when comparing the data with my wife and daughter (The two women are unrelated.)

Individuation, the way we learn to become independent adults, is a murky affair rooted in our experience of our own parents. To get through it, one has to establish a firm footing where there is none. Much of the confusion in becoming an adult comes from this mistake prone territory.

Having a some handle on which of your traits are genetic is an interesting place to start. Understanding which of those you share with which parent clarifies. Being able to compare your DNA with a non-related parent solidifies the equation. Rather than operating in the dark, there’s a small bit of light.

As I told my friend about the various aspects of the test results, he was surprised by the things that were genetic (some learning styles, in particular). He asked me how many people have been tested (about a million).

Then he asked my why everyone hasn’t heard about this.

My friend and I entered the world at a time when there were few information sources and tightly controlled innovation. There was a staggering level of conformity, particularly in the middle and upper middle class. We read the same books, watched the same television shows, saw the same moves and listened (more or less) to the same music.

When there was a new idea, the news got around quickly.

Today, there are many more innovations, nobody listens to the same sources and the news feeds are full of mind-dulling articles with search engine optimized headlines and no content. Information doesn’t flow. It sits and clots in little individualized pools of self reinforcing opinion. So far, no one is seriously tackling the problem of dissemination, how to broaden the distribution of the flow, how to be sure that important news surfaces and is acted on.

The problem began with proprietary data sets for individual pieces of software. The practice is rampant in the enterprise world. Instead of data transparency, most customers and users are stuck with data that doesn’t flow easily and can’t readily be separated from the piece of software.

That ‘sticky’ business model took root in the innovation centers of the technology world. In the consumer world, that looks like creating small networks with members who are selected for similarities and then binding them to each others’ information flow. The result is a world in which information moves rapidly within the small network ecosystem. It’s harder to get it to flow outside the system.

In the long haul, this drives marketing costs through the ceiling. It’s easy to create momentum in the small sphere and painfully difficult in the larger economy. Information flows smoothly in a monoculture and has a bumpy trajectory when it moves from ghetto to ghetto.

In the end, marketing (which causes much of the current problem) is the solution. Figuring out how to make your idea take root is essential to both change management endeavors and big data initiatives. Like many really interesting problems, we’re just beginning to have enough data to ask good questions.

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