Question 80 of 365: How can we ask for radical use?

Three toothbrushes, photo taken in Sweden
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“Use as directed” is a command that is losing all of its value*. I use almost everything for multiple purposes now. My garbage bags hold clothes going to Goodwill, my toothbrush is a drum for my son, and my keys are boxcutters. The things that were meant for one thing, so easily become a part of something else’s story. And it is even more complex with things that inherently have multiple purposes. The iPhone has always been something will a million uses, and yet it has always come with a terms of service which outlines the uses that was meant for.

I would like to make the case that directed uses should give way, at least in part, to radical uses. I believe that we should stop being held hostage by what other people (or companies) think that we should do with their products. We should be looking to squeeze every possibility out of a “solution” and not give in to the ways that they were first envisioned.

And, the reason?

The reason we should ask for people’s radical uses of our ideas, products, and work is that it is the only way we will truly understand what we have. Only if we see just what a plastic bag can do can we really understand what a plastic bag is. Only when we see that an iPhone can be used to track a stolen vehicle or watch a live nasa launch can we really understand what an iPhone is. Unless there are people exploring every aspect, we can never really see the right direction to go.

Which is why I think that people should tell me I am wrong. They should refer to the things that I believe as silly or naive. They should tell me that my use of technology or theory or even my time is ludicrous. But they should also tell me how they would do it differently.

And that is how we should ask… We should look for any story that gives the details of the most radical uses of what we hold dear. We should listen for anything that will give us a glimpse into the perversions of our vision, while still holding true to the tenets. Talking them through and challenging our “radicals” to back up their uses should be a daily habit.

That is why I believe in what StickyBits is doing with their StickyWiki. They are telling their users to come up with the uses for their product, and not the other way around. And yet, they haven’t gone far enough. They are only asking for everyday uses. They are not asking for radical uses. They are not pushing their users to explore the boundaries of the platform.

I want teachers to ask kids what their most radical and purposeful form of math is.

I want employees to tell the story of their most radical and purposeful use of an e-mail thread is.

I want everyone to tell their stories about the things that they don’t “use as directed,” the things that they find interesting, poignant, and radical within their lives.

Because at the end of the day, I don’t care about how you integrate technology or develop software or manage systems. I care about your ability to revolutionize, iterate, and pivot on every piece of evidence you have. I care about your ability to tell the whole story about any given idea. I care about your ability to listen for an opportunity and then pursue it with passion.

So, I will be listening to the stories about toothbrushes, iPhones, and Open Spokes. If only because I feel as though the future lies within those stories.

* (Let it be known that I am still very much in favor of using medicine as directed.)

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  1. I once watched an interview with Trey Parker and Matt Stone where they were talking about whether or not they thought South Park was offensive. They explained that it wasn't, but that it would become offensive as soon as something was too taboo for them to attack it. Everything is on the table. I remember that moment because it was the moment I started truly respecting Parker and Stone. I can't say as it improved my esteem for South Park, but those two got it right.
    I say that because let's put medicine on the table. Let's put everything on the table of being used incorrectly. Using medicine to get high at this point isn't radical, so I'm not worried about the danger. Let's look at everything and say, “What didn't they want me to do with this?”
    Then, let's trying it as though we wouldn't fail.
    That's the key, right? We will fail. We're doing something with something that we shouldn't be. That's going to be a failure. I don't mean it in the cute “fail and learn from it” cliché. I mean, we'll fail.
    I'm not so much keen on embracing failure as I am in ignoring it. What if we refused to acknowledge we'd failed?
    Everything has to be on the table. We have to use it opposingly. We will fail. We must ignore it.
    Yeah.

  2. “What if we refuse to acknowledge we've failed?”

    I'm not sure I can buy that too much. That is why it has taken me so long to
    respond to this one. I still don't quite get how we can move ahead with
    using things in a radical way if we are too busy ignoring the fact that some
    radical uses will be ludicrous failures.

    And yet, I do get it. If we no longer are bound by failure we will be able
    to learn from everything just the same. If we believe that failure and
    success are simply a part of experience, then all experience can inform us
    of where we should be going rather than taking only some things and moving
    forward.

    If we treated failure as just one more way of knowing then there isn't
    anything to embrace. We wouldn't run toward success with so much gusto
    because we know that failure will potentially lead to more growth and we
    won't have to invent reasons to be okay with failure, we will just be okay
    with it.

    I get it, and it scares me a bit. Failure is scary right now, and I want it
    not to be.

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