Creative Conflicts and Dynamic Balancing

Products and services that present a “point of balance” had dominant positions in their respective markets, and were deemed as a “dominant ...

Products and services that present a “point of balance” had dominant positions in their respective markets, and were deemed as a “dominant design.” However, as is the fate of all organisms, a dominant design eventually undergoes its ups and downs over time and changes in the environment and eventually dies. Although digital products and services may evolve towards increased economic value over time, the majority of them these days are rejected and dismissed at a faster rate than ever. Until recently, a lot of studies tried to explain this phenomenon only with technological elements. But can we indeed say that such technological elements alone determine the rise and fall of a dominant design? Could a person’s experience, as we have been contemplating in this book, be the answer to this question rather than technological elements? The important frame of innovation can be reclaimed as people’s experiences that digest and apply this technology. So when thinking about a person’s experience, why is a dominant design gradually destroyed over time? Through which principles are new dominant designs created?

There is No Eternal Winner

Sometimes I find myself observing people in crowded places. The subway in particular is an interesting place in Korea, especially during rush hour, where more than 90 % of the people repeat the same behaviors in the same positions. They stare at their smartphones, which is a scene that can also be observed while waiting for the green light at a crosswalk in Metropolitan Seoul. Studies have reported the so-called “Turtle Neck Syndrome,” which occurs to people when sitting in front of a computer in the wrong posture for prolonged periods of time. This phenomenon can be found even in very young children using smartphones, and it shows just how much the smartphone is being used nowadays. The first smartphones were luxury items for businessmen and CEOs but now they have become an undeniable paradigm in our lives. How can we explain this rapidly changing world of digital products and services?

At this point, we need to review how digital companies create UXs and integrate it into strategic products or services. Over the past 6 years, I have been a board member of a company that owned Korea’s leading internet portal site. In the beginning when discussing the agenda at a board meeting, management performance was tracked mainly through three categories: general finance, marketing, and tracking reports of users’ degree of service usage. I was reported periodically on the influx of new users every month, the number of users using the portal service, and how long they stayed on it.

But one day I realized that the reports on the users were old-fashioned. In fact, the method of measuring the tracking performance itself was old-fashioned because it was done based on data that was collected by installing special equipment on a limited number of users’ desktops, which created log data by tracking the order in which the services were used. By doing so, un-sampled end users were completely ignored, and with the increasing number of smartphone users, we could not examine
the users connecting from mobile devices rather than desktops.

But tracking mobile device users was relatively difficult. Because the Privacy Act of Korea maintains very strict standards for such methods, it was difficult to collect sufficient information to understand the users. Within the Act, we decided to monitor the users connecting through smartphones. Only after a year or so, there was a complete reversal in the results: the number of mobile users surpassed PCbased visitors. While the curve for mobile users rose steeply, PC-based users fell gradually, showing a graph with a clear intersecting X mark.

In fact, signs of such changes had been apparent for some time. In the early 2000s, 3–4 years before the introduction of smartphones, people were purchasing feature phones in increased numbers. At this time, new service development departments of telecommunication companies were filled with countless proposals by small and medium sized companies offering additional software functions and services for mobile phones. By adding many additional services on new mobile phones and raising the price of the existing ones, the revenue from each user increased continuously in a rising curve.

During this time, I was working as a member of a future strategy group for one of the top domestic mobile carriers in Korea. One day, I had a chance to talk to the CEO who was full of insights on the developments in the IT industry. He told me, “Jinwoo, I have had terrible recurring dreams recently. Do you know how expensive the telecommunication bills per family are in Korea? A family of four pays several hundred thousand won [several hundreds of dollars] in telecommunication expenses. The situation may be better if the breadwinner earns a lot but even disregarding our average national disposable income, the fact that each family is wasting several hundred thousand won is a major social issue. The problem is—what benefits are people getting after spending so much money? They are limited to just a few minutes of phone calls and text messaging services. The companies should thoroughly reflect on whether they are returning the benefits to the consumers.”

Such a confession by a CEO of a telecommunications company was a big shock to me. In fact, at the time telecommunication companies developed numerous content for the mobile phone market that were mostly unsuccessful. The only profitable business models were SMS and phone calls. But even these were not the result of solid strategies by the company, but rather a natural result due to the oligopoly state of the market. In other words, this was a result of operating in an extremely closed
form of market.

But in 2009, the iPhone was introduced in Korea and the application services market became increasingly more active. An environment was created where anyone could use applications that were developed with global standards regardless of specific carriers. Meanwhile, mobile application services with immense profits emerged, weakening the telecommunication companies’ influence in the mobile industry. Text messaging service, which was once a dutiful business model, had now suddenly become a neglected service, and the telecommunication companies’ struggles to retain the rapidly falling profits from phone calls had begun. From PC to mobile, and from telecommunication companies to manufacturers and application markets, the landscape had changed in just a few years. Looking at this macroscopic flow of events, I became curious about where the next change would occur.

Changes of Dominant Design

Take a close look at your keyboard if you have a computer nearby. The keys on the upper left most likely spell out ‘QWERTY,’ which is why we call such keyboards with these layouts “QWERTY keyboards.” The QWERTY layout was initially designed for mechanical typewriters in order to avoid the type bars from jamming. Almost all keyboards today come with the QWERTY layout, which is an international standard and a dominant design as well. This layout is still being used even after the transformation of computing to mobile, where no jamming bars exist. Of course, there were many other keyboard layouts that enabled faster typing and more convenience, but they were all shunned in the market.

According to INSEAD Professors Henrich Greve and Seidel, entering the market first is more important than product quality in order to secure more power (Greve and Seidel 2014). Once a company becomes the first to enter a market, the majority of people will become most familiar with its products amongst the product group. Steadily, this company’s product can become the dominant design in which other companies must adapt to this company’s technologies and application methods. This becomes a practical standard and a kind of norm that creates competition in a similar manner between products and services. Once a company acquires the dominant design it has greater market competitiveness and can reduce costs through economies of scale. Also, users tend to stick to what they are already familiar with, because they consider it a waste of time and money (called transaction cost) to adapt to something new unless its effect is powerful and certain.

However, once a dominant design is determined, it does not last forever, and for whatever reason, it falls out and a new dominant design emerges. Let’s examine how dominant designs fall out and emerge based on the perspective of human experience. Specifically, we need to examine how the dominant design of a product or service adapts and changes regarding sensual, judgmental, and compositional elements of experience. Before we start discussing products and services, I would like
to first talk about how the characteristics of a dominant design changes in the field that is easily accessible by the general public, such as art, cars, and music.

Sense of Presence Varies with Time

Regarding sensual experience, the sense of presence is an important variable. However, a high sense of presence does not always result in a positive experience. At times, changes in external environments lead to lessened sense of presence and sometimes the opposite happens. Let’s look at this through the history of modern art.

During the Middle Ages when Christianity dominated all aspects of society, provocative and excessively immersive art was forbidden. Byzantine and Gothic paintings excluded three-dimensional effects and were painted as flat as possible. The motifs were usually biblical situations, resulting in artwork that had a low sense of presence. In the 14th century, however, after the bubonic plague and the merciless deaths of young people in religious wars, people started to realize that their current lives were more important than the afterlife. In particular, movements to revive human- centered thinking emerged. An increasing number of artists, such as Petrarca and Dante, praised the “current era” as the best times for people to live in. These ideas brought forth the Reneissance of human-centered culture.

During the Renaissance, the main subjects for painting and sculptures were all focused on people and the portrayal techniques also changed strategically. Artists like Caravaggio (1602) proposed a sensory recreation method that created a three dimensional space through clear contrasts and hues, similar to chiaroscuro. Thus, during the Renaissance, the sense of presence of the artwork had increased.

As the Baroque style, which was centered on absolute monarchy, began to thrive after the Renaissance, art started to take a new direction. Painting styles, such as mannerism, began to show increasingly stimulating content. The most representative works are Gentileschi’s “Judith Slaying Holofernes” (1614) and Tintoretto’s “Last Supper” (1570). Hence, representation methods of increasing sense of presence had intensified.

However, the Rococo style, late impressionism, and the modernism era brought a change in painting patterns that were more and more understated. Simple, rustic expressions took the initiative rather than pursuing detail and extreme contrast, apparent in Hogarth’s “Marriage √†-la-mode” (1743–1745) and Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night” (1889). The modernism of Matisse, which strategically selected and expressed points that were important to the painter rather than stressing the environment and individuals equally, is also a form of art that significantly lowered a sense of presence.


As shown in Fig. 4.1, the level of sense of presence in the history of modern art draws a curve similar to a sine wave, changing according to the situation and context of the time. It changes dynamically according to the era, from low presence to high presence, and from high presence to low.

Locus of Causality Changes with Time

We can take automobiles as an example for the change in points of locus of causality for judging what is useful according to the times and situations. The history of the automobile can be divided into three stages depending on the judgmental locus of causality: pre-World War II from 1920 to 1940 when the modern automobile first came out, post-World War II from 1940 to 1960, and during the oil crisis between the 1970s and 1990s.

From 1920 to 1940 was the time when the automobile’s structure and functions were being established in order to replace the horse and carriage as the method for transportation. During this time when the automobile’s functional value was emphasized, it was of utmost important to get to the desired destination quickly and safely. Also, there were no customizable options in the purchasing process that we are used to today. In those days, people utilized automobiles as a means to go from
one point to another rather than enjoyed the driving process. During this time, the locus of causality was external as people put more meaning into automobiles as a mode of efficient transportation.

Between 1940 and 1960, with the development of electric ignitions and standardized braking systems, the convenience of automobiles improved to the point that the general public could drive them with ease. This was followed by paved roads and people found various reasons in their daily lives that required driving. Now, the automobile had added value beyond a mere mode of transportation. In particular, cars were being manufactured in a variety of forms as people began to
view the automobile as an extension of themselves. While there are those who preferred small cars like the Mini Cooper and Volkswagen Beetle, there are those who enjoyed muscle cars like the Jaguar or Chevrolet Impala. Furthermore, there are people who completely customize the interior and exterior of their cars to suit their own tastes. By this time, people enjoyed the driving process itself and felt they controlled, to some extent, the processing of getting valuable experiences. In other words, people’s judgmental experience steered towards an internal locus of causality as they started to consider options and controlled what they wanted in their automobiles.

In the 1970s, many complex actions required by the driver were automated to ease the burden on the user, for example automatic gears and control systems. During this time, roads became more complex and crowded and nations started discussing the harm of vehicle exhaust emission on the environment. Especially after the 1973 oil crisis that led to soaring oil prices, the fuel efficiency of cars emerged as an important issue. During this time, Japanese automakers received attention, as their cars were fuel-efficient, had almost no breakdowns, and had fully automated equipment. The car’s functional value, its ability to move from one place to another with the lowest fuel consumption possible, was highlighted once again. In other words, the values and changes of the times shifted people’s judgmental experience to an external locus of causality.

We examined how the locus of causality of judgmental experience can change according to the situation of the times. As shown in Fig. 4.2, an internal locus of causality is more relevant to people at times, whereas an external locus of causality is held in more value at other times. In addition, we saw that the locus of causality of a dominant design was not oriented to a specific direction, but rather swayed both ways.

Relational Cohesiveness also Changes with Time

The appropriate level of perceived relational cohesiveness can differ from person to person depending on the times. Similarly, the level of relational cohesiveness that products and services with dominant designs bring can also change, an example being the change in musical trends.

During the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, the Medici family of Florence started what we all know as the opera (Hanskins 1990). The opera originated from the Medici family’s special plays that were mixed with singing. The Medici family wanted a place to spend quality time with acquaintances and other family members and installed a small stage in the living room. Some composers were also commissioned to write songs appropriate for dining and drinking wine. This type of community was an innovative one as there were scarce opportunities to meet people with the exception of going to church. The opera needed specialized music, which led to the development of chamber music. Chamber music is usally performed for a limited audience and each part is played by a solo leader of the chamber. In chamber music, the collaborative ensemble is important without master-slave relationships between the solo and accompaniments. Chamber music was mainly played in palaces and residences of nobles or small areas such as concert halls for a small audience, who enjoyed the music with meals and refreshments. Chamber music is an example of high-level relational cohesiveness, which considers the close relationship between the audience and music important.


However, in the early nineteenth century, with the appearance of Beethoven and the advent of conductors, Western music became highly oriented to a specialized system (Horkheimer and Adorno 2001). Composers were divided into specialized categories in music, such as keyboard, strings, and vocal, while musicians were affiliated with a symphonic orchestra, a professional organization, bringing a highly structured environment. In other words, for both the music listeners and performers,
the musical trends in this period changed towards lower relational cohesiveness in terms of compositional experience. Even musicians had fewer opportunities to mingle as they focused only on their own parts. Also, the audience gathered for listening to the works in theaters and halls rather than socializing like in the past. Even in Mozart’s times, it was not unusual to drink coffee while seeing a performance of the “Magic Flute.” However, since Beethoven, theater etiquette evolved to disapprove
noise from the audience at un-appropriate times such as coughing or small talk during a performance. In this sense, symphonies have opposite characteristics to chamber music, which possesses weak relational cohesiveness between performers and the audience.

But this did not last long. There was a sharp twist in the history of Western music with the introduction of Richard Wagner. Wagner had an unusual propensity with a very short temper, and was expelled from Germany until he was 50 years old for being involved with communist ideas. However, King Ludwig of the Kingdom of Bavaria (Munich is Bavaria’s largest city) built a large theater after desiring “national music”, “national music,” or “music that symbolizes a nation” in the area of Bayreuth, a part of Bavaria. Under this slogan, Wagner created masterpieces such as “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg,” “Tannhauser,” and “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” which were all based on northern European mythology that depicted “Great Germany.” This was the moment when the level of relational cohesiveness rose again in the history of music. Since then, Brahms, Bruckner, and even French composers began to study the forms of expression by Wagner. Composers from nations that were not-so-friendly with Germany, such as the Czech Republic and Russia, began coming up with music that represented nationalism. Examples of such composers are Czech’s Smetana and Dvorak and Russia’s Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin, who expressed the culture of their nation and people through music while escaping from the symphony orchestra’s quantitative music that was centered on mechanical techniques. By using ethnic melodies and musical structures that were passed on for generations as a theme, musical content that strengthened national consciousness had begun to spread. This kind of music had a major impact on promoting social unity in times of wars and division. Thus, the change from symphony to nationalist music is an example of change from low-level to high-level relational cohesiveness from the perspective of the audience.

Conflicts and Contradictions that Power Innovation

Russian scientist G. Altshulle has an unusual past. He went into exile to Siberian camps for political reasons during the Stalin era while working at a patent office. While at the camps, he and his fellow prisoners analyzed hundreds of thousands of patents that were filed to the Russian government to find commonalities. The long Siberian winter had given him an opportunity to gather and analyze massive amounts of data. While analyzing inventions that once dominated, he discovered why and how they were made. As a result, he explained that the leading cause of new technology was conflict and the development process was the resolution of such conflicts (Kuhn 1962). In other words, he stated that the emergence of new technologies was the solution to conflicts of existing technologies. For example, the automobile was invented to help move from point A to point B. This invention was good for transportation but created a conflict by polluting the environment. We can see that, to address the conflict of air pollution, an environmentally unfriendly issue, electric car technology was created (Buchanan 1992).


In fact, many thinkers in the past had already claimed that conflict powered social changes. In his book “Leviathan,” political philosopher Hobbes stated that the essence of humans was violence and conflict (Hobbes, 1928) while Hegel, who viewed the world in three stages—in itself, out of itself, and in and for itself, assumed that conflict was an inevitable element that occurred in the making of history (Hegel 2004). In “Capital,” written by communist philosopher Karl Marx, human history starts a revolution to solve the past’s contradictions but conceives a new contradiction in the process.

Interestingly, conflicts and contradictions also result in innovation in companies and academics. When faced with problems, people search for new ideas and methods to solve them. However, there are times when we overlook new problems in the new ideas and methods, as we are only human. As time goes by, the new ideas and methods can become authoritative by becoming the dominant design. Eventually, they become another source of new conflict.

Thomas Kuhn calls the process that rejected such conflicts “the history of science.” He stated that the history of science was the developmental process of New Science, which solved the contradiction of Normal Science that accepted the pulpit as authoritative and rational (Kuhn 1962). He also stated that the textbooks, research methodologies, and experimental procedures learned in school were political tools to hinder the creativity of scientific thinkers and cover the contradictions of Old Science.

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