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From home-brewed beer to the crafty micro-businesses on Etsy, America is experiencing a
resurgence of do-it-yourself culture. Two of the
country’s most successful bloggers offer their
distinctive takes on the phenomenon.
In Made by Hand: Searching
for Meaning in a Throwaway
World (Portfolio, $24.95), Mark
Frauenfelder, co-founder of
BoingBoing.net and editor-
in-chief of Make magazine,
makes his own yogurt, raises chickens, hacks
his espresso machine, and uses such experi-
ences to make the case for releasing your inner
amateur. Law professor Glenn Reynolds, of
Instapundit.com fame, hit some of the same
themes in his 2006 book An Army of Davids:
How Markets and Technology Empower
Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Gov-
ernment, and Other Goliaths (Thomas Nelson,
$14.99 paper), whose political lessons anticipated both the Obama insurgency and the Tea
In contemporary American culture,
choice is both a cherished value
and a major challenge: How do
we navigate the myriad choices
we face in our personal and
business lives without becoming overwhelmed? In The Art of Choosing
(Twelve, $25.99), psychologist Sheena Iyengar
offers a lively survey of the psychological research on how we choose and, along the way,
suggests some tactics businesses can use to
help customers make more satisfying--and
Design Your Life: The Pleasures
and Perils of Everyday Things (St.
Martin’s, $23.95) by Ellen Lupton,
a prominent graphic designer
and design curator, and her
twin sister Julia Lupton, an English profes-
sor, is all about noticing and then thinking
about what you notice, providing instruction
in “design thinking” through the anthropology
of the familiar. Why is a paper shredder the
latest kitchen gadget? Why won’t the living
room die? Why does a chocolate fountain
make an impressive store display but a terrible
gift? And where do baby carrots come from?
What do you mean by “culture”?
I was just watching the movie I Love You, Man.
It’s a wonderfully observed piece of anthropology. The Paul Rudd character doesn’t understand how to act like a “guy.” Somehow this
knowledge has escaped him. That’s what culture
is: the meanings and rules with which we understand and act in the world.
What’s the biggest mistake business people
make when they think about the intersection of
culture and commerce?
They suppose that the moment of sale consists of
a rational decision, a calculation of interest, a pursuit of benefit. But every purchase is shaped by
meanings and rules. Whether a new product finds
a place in the market depends on whether and
how it squares with the meanings in our heads.
What can a small startup without the resources
to have a dedicated “chief culture officer” do to
make sure it pays attention to the relevant
Startups have access to lots of culture knowledge.
Right now it’s tacit knowledge. Like how to be a
guy. Or things we know about television, cocktail
culture, the local food movement, Burning Man.
We have to get it out of our heads onto the table.
And then we have to tag the changes we see happening. Then we need to track the changes that
matter to us and start making estimates about
when they will reach our markets.
For the culture knowledge we don’t know, the
trick is to start combing media more systematically. In Chief Culture Officer, I talk about an investment firm in NYC that keeps track of culture
by having five people read 300 magazines. We
don’t need to hire a cool hunter or a guru to learn
about culture. We just have to pay attention.
Could you give us an example of a startup that
beat the big guys by understanding culture?
The world of carbonated soft drinks is filled
with examples: Snapple, Red Bull, Vitamin
Water, Odwalla, and so on.
What’s wrong with “cool hunting”?
Cool hunters only care about the latest stuff,
the fads and fashion. Culture is vastly more
than this. It is deep cultural traditions that
change slowly. And they don’t show on the cool
hunter’s radar. Fads and fashions make up only
20 percent of culture. Slow culture is the rest.
What kind of professional ignores 80 percent of
his or her domain?