My wish for 2011: Greater comfort with decline and death

Just before Christmas the always awesome Al Emanski asked me if I would write a short answer to a question he was asking a number of people he thought might have interesting answers:

What would you like to become more visible in 2011?

A number of us responded (there are a fair number of cool people on the list and my favourite response so far is by Christian Bason of Mind-Lab in Denmark, who’ve I’ve not met, and whose project I love). You can download all the 500 word responses here.

I wrote the following as my answer. Al was kind enough to include it in his collection and I’m reposting it below as I was rereading it last night, and still feel it’s true a few weeks later. If you want new and better things, it means we also have to learn to let some old ways of doing things go.

Greater comfort with decline and death.

It sounds shocking – and Iʼm being a little over the top. But I mean it.

We are surrounded by institutions, business models and processes that serve us poorly. To me, the definitive example is the Yellow Pages. Here is an unsolicited “service” that is forced upon millions of Canadians, consumes enormous resources to create and distribute, and that is increasingly obsolete with the rise of 411 and the Internet.

Indeed, the stacks of unwanted yellow pages in residential apartment buildings across the country have become alarmingly large. The Yellow Pages are quickly becoming the definitive metaphor of our times: a business that can continue to exist and consume vast resources long after it serves individual or even a collective good. Inertia, not innovation, is the core value.

We can do better. But it means letting things die.

So what Iʼd like is to be more visible in 2011 is death. For Canadians everywhere to look at their lives, their governments, their business or place of work and ask the metaphorical question: Whatʼs the Yellow Pages of my organization?

This is a hard question. And it challenges us in many ways.  Sometimes it may mean we have to stop doing the thing we have become good at, or comfortable with. But we live in such an exciting era where so many new things are possible. But this will only matter if we get comfortable with letting go of the old. As we manage a scarcity of money, resources and time, being able to do this is only going to become more important. It isnʼt easy, but the alternative – a future of continued poorly allocated and inefficiently used resources – is even worse.

4 thoughts on “My wish for 2011: Greater comfort with decline and death

  1. Brad Johhston

    David – as a public servant in Ontario I endorse your 2011 wish that we actively learn to let our “Yellow Page projects” go and stop doing them. We need to ask why do this? what value does it bring? and from whose perspective? Like people, organizations gather “stuff” around them as a comfort and protection. It lends a sense of control and provides a buffer from asking the why questions. Letting go is hard.

    I understand Christian Bason may be coming to Toronto in May. Exciting opportunities.


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  3. David Yip

    I think mine would be the ongoing provision of information tools that are totally out of sync with how we work. Collaborating is still a morass of shared drives, file naming structures, and track changes. Finding information is still talking to the right people or praying that hitting “F3” give you something useful.

    A trusted cloud and newsfeed, smartly integrated with email to ease the transition, can’t come soon enough.


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