TiVoing Dead People

The LAB: Innovating the iPhone with Attribute Dependency (September 2008)
September 28, 2008
Lazy Innovation
October 26, 2008

George Orwell died January 21, 1950 at the age of 46. He is considered one of the great all-time fiction writers with works like Animal House and Nineteen Eighty Four. What if he were alive today? What would he say, and what would he write about? What if he blogged? What would the conversation be within the blogosphere? Much to my surprise, George Orwell is blogging...sort of. The Orwell Prize, Britain’s pre-eminent prize for political writing, is publishing George Orwell’s diaries as a blog. Orwell’s domestic and political diaries from August 1938 until October 1942 are being posted in real-time, exactly 70 years after the entries were written. The diaries are exactly as Orwell wrote them.

George Orwell died January 21, 1950 at the age of 46.  He is considered one of the great all-time fiction writers with works like Animal House and Nineteen Eighty Four.  What if he were alive today?  What would he say, and what would he write about?  What if he blogged?  What would the conversation be within the blogosphere?

Much to my surprise, George Orwell is blogging…sort of.  The Orwell Prize, Britain’s pre-eminent prize for political writing, is publishing George Orwell’s diaries as a blog.  Orwell’s domestic and political diaries from August 1938 until October 1942 are being posted in real-time, exactly 70 years after the entries were written.  The diaries are exactly as Orwell wrote them.

Why does it matter?  George Orwell has been time-shifted from the past to the present.  It is what the popular digital video recorder, TiVo, does with our favorite TV shows.  It means we can take any dead person’s diaries, writings, or speeches and re-introduce them as blogs.  We can take advantage of a medium that never existed until a few years ago and participate as though that person were alive.  George is dead, but his diaries spark a discussion in this completely new medium in a way that he could not have predicted.  Big Brother is with us again.

Imagine the blog commentary from other famous dead people like Albert Einstein, Jesus, Mother Teresa, or Adam Smith.  What new insight or innovation would emerge with a conversation in the blogosphere stimulated by these peoples’ blog posts?   “TiVoing the Dead” holds the same promise for the not-so-famous.  It means we can generate ideas and insights while living and have them stored for future reading and commentary.  We can be TiVo’d to a later point in time when our ideas will be embraced in a new way.

This revelation makes me wonder about the role of time and its use in innovation.  The variable, time, is used routinely with the Attribute Dependency template.  In the case of time shifting a person’s writings, we are “breaking a dependency” rather than creating one.  But I wonder if there is a much broader role for time when innovating.  Is there a way to harness some of the complex aspects of time such as…

  • duration
  • speed
  • stopping
  • quantity
  • sequence
  • direction
  • continuity

…as it relates to a product or service.  The approach would be to use these aspects to manipulate a product or service, thus creating a “virtual product/service,” then working backwards to see if it solves a problem in a useful way.  I plan to work with this rough idea over the next few months to see where it leads.  Perhaps it could form the basis of a new innovation template.  The test of a new template is its ability to generate, on command, novel ideas that would not have been generated otherwise – just as the other five templates do.

Special thanks to Bryan Melmed, MBA student at Columbia Business School, for telling me about the Orwell blog.