Institutions Will Seek To Preserve The Problem For Which They Are The Solution

from the the-shirky-principle dept

We already wrote a detailed analysis of Clay Shirky's recent writeup on complex business models. However, a few of you have sent over Kevin Kelly's recent post about Shirky's piece that also compares it to Clayton Christensen's Innovator's Dilemma, but thankfully highlights the one key line in Shirky's piece that may have gotten lost in the original:
"Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution."
Kelly calls this the "Shirky Principle." To me, it calls to mind Upton Sinclair's famous line:
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"
They are not the same point, but they are related. In both cases, these are situations where people will often seek to preserve a problem or a falsehood, rather than recognize that it doesn't need to be that way. There are lots of industries where this is a major issue.

But, of course, the real problem is in how they go about trying to preserve that problem. They will go to great lengths to demonize the solutions. This is why the newspaper industry has, at times, lashed out at Craigslist and Google News -- two operations that have essentially removed problems that the newspaper business used to solve. It's why old school video guys lash out at YouTube or Boxee -- because they have removed problems that television used to solve. And, yes, it's why the RIAA and the MPAA lash out at file sharing apps and services -- because they have removed problems in distribution and promotion, that they used to solve.

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  1. icon
    chris (profile), 9 Apr 2010 @ 11:16am

    Re: Re: Preserve The Problem

    Agreed, except that even if educators did an awesome job educating children, there would always be more to educate, so not really a conflict there.

    the problem isn't one of quality, it's one of availability and affordability.

    you can't count on an industry that profits from scarcity to solve the problem of scarcity.

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