It’s quite astonishing to think about just how much human knowledge exists, and just how diffuse its distribution is. It’s hard for any individual to tell. There are clues though. Knowledge is a major way that people create distinctions among one another, so it stands to reason that you can get a sense for how knowledge is distributed by looking at the distinctions people make amongst themselves. The knowledge of French and the knowledge of English creates a distinction between two rather large groups. The knowledge and application of ancient stories is another. The knowledge of how to shape a piece of wood, or stone, or glass used to be a pretty huge distinction. There are entire identities put in place around knowledge – statements in the format that of “You can’t call yourself a _____ without knowing _____” are common. Knowledge and identity labels seem to be tightly bundled. You are what you know. Sometimes the degree of knowing what you are is another distinction.
What about Quality Attributes? Can they affect identity, community and cohesion?
Consider the quality attribute of safety.
The knowledge of how to design anything that is safer than its base state can be pretty specialized. How to fasten metal and moveable parts together in a way that is safe, under the constraints of lightness and maintainability, is specialized. People who get it, get it, and know how to identify other people who get it just through the words they use. And it’s an idea that is uniting.
The knowledge of how to generate a large amount of sound using the internal combustion engine is also specialized. How to modify the engine and the exhaust to create a louder sound, under the constraints of wear and fuel efficiency, is specialized. People who get it, get it, and they’re able to identify other people who get it just through the noise their engines generate. And it appears to be an idea that is uniting.
Previously, I’ve argued that fairness is a key quality attribute of those who believe in Web3.
Moore and McKenna (1999) defined a market as a group of people who refer to each other when making a purchasing decision. If knowledge and valuing of some quality attributes are unifying, then it stands to reason that some people refer to each other when making that purchasing decision. That in places, there’s an organic alignment between quality attributes and markets.
What Harbinger Customers Know
Harbinger customers (Anderson et al, 2015), a group I’ve written about before, are those that are early predictors of product failure. They are more likely to buy things that others won’t. Think about people who were really, really into the Xune and insisted that it was the superior product. Maybe it’s the case that harbinger customers are more likely care about quality attributes that mass markets don’t care about.
Take, for instance, the quality attribute of customizability. Customizability often comes with tradeoffs. A highly customizable product is typically more complex. Complexity, on its own, can increase the likelihood of failure if unmitigated. The effort to mitigate complexity comes at a cost and a risk. At the accepted risk of alienating multiple communities, the customizability of the linux operating system versus the customizability of the MacOS operating system are at two different levels. Because Linux is Open Source and open, there are a whole lot more opportunities for customization. MacOS is fairly closed. There are fewer opportunities to customize the MacOS operating system. One is more complex than the other. One is easier to use than the other.
Less customizability means greater simplicity because there are fewer opportunities for things to go wrong. There’s less chance for errors to compound. Simple, less customizable systems, are often quite a bit more usable. You can make Linux work for you in a consumer context. But it’ll cost you time.
What if, sometimes, harbinger customers simply value quality attributes like customizability, that mass markets simply don’t care about? What then? How would that knowledge, of how knowledge of a quality attribute is distributed, affect the choices you’d make in product development?
Imagine how frustrating those decisions must be for communities that value certain quality attributes over larger ones.
It can be hard to not take challenges to the quality attributes you personally care about, personally. It’s especially hard if your identity is completely wrapped up with the products and services you know, and the people that you know. This could be particularly difficult of evangelist entrepreneurs to process.
The more one can understand about how markets are structured, in particular in relation to their needs and the quality attributes that they value, the better one could mark the distinction between harbingers and others.
The decision to embrace ones own membership in any of those communities is a good one.
Anderson, Eric, Song Lin, Duncan Simester, and Catherine Tucker (2015), “Harbingers of
Failure,” Journal of Marketing Research, 52(5), 580-592.
Moore, G. A., & McKenna, R. (1999). Crossing the chasm.