In my February 8, 2015 post Rage and the Machine, I expressed my contempt for the principle of SyncDev's "Minimum Viable Product" or MVP. This pathetic indictment of the superficiality which defines most of our enterprises was first used, according to their website, in 2001. I am amused at the obsession that plagues everyone using the term to insure that, while Frank Robinson - reportedly the term's progenitor - came up with the idea and coined the phrase, it is Steve Blank and Eric Ries who popularized it. Wikipedia can't even avoid plagiarizing the obsession surrounding the etymology of the term! And, most of all, I love the post-modern hubris attending the notion that doing the absolute least to bamboozle a consumer-addicted population into paying a disproportionate premium for something with precious little improvement is the aspirational ideal of business. "Think big for the long term but small for the short term," is the mindset for successful business!
Seduction and consumerism fuel the notion that human enterprise should focus on minimizing risk of failure for the fleeting illusion of advantage and instant gratification. From the helium of Silicon Valley to the "social entrepreneur" educator, we're training ourselves to eschew intrepid courage to tackle our daunting challenges by conforming to consensus incrementalism. And then we wonder why we get nowhere with geopolitical, social, religious, technical and interpersonal intractable challenges! Give me a break! The digital hybridization which defines our social framework has reduced our analog aesthetic into 1s and 0s and we wonder why we can't do complex computations anymore. Buried within this incremental tedium is a more insidious reality. Through apparent MVP thinking and acting, we're actually adding complexity by deferring thoughtful, arduous action.
The Wall Street Journal had an article on Saturday morning entitled, "The Fractured Legacy of The Mapmakers". In this thoughtful and depressing piece on the post-Ottoman Empire recklessness of the French and British which have cost the lives of millions and the treasuries of the "Allies" trillions of dollars which could have been directed towards education, infrastructure, arts, and well-being, Yaroslav Trofimov reports the conversation leading up to the Sykes-Picot Agreement.
""Tell me what you want," France's Georges Clemenceau said to Britain's David Lloyd George as they strolled through the French embassy in London.
"I want Mosul," the British Prime Minister replied.
"You shall have it. Anything else?" Clemenceau asked.
In a few seconds, it was done. The huge Ottoman imperial province of Mosul, home to the Sunni Arabs and Kurds and to plentiful oil, ended up as part of the newly created territory of Iraq, not the newly created country of Syria."
MVP. I think not. In the space of a few minutes (short term thinking), an innovation was hatched which has literally killed us. Borders. Cartographers throughout history realized that capitals, ports, and sacred cities were the basis of power and so, up until the 18th and 19th century, most maps focused on coastal edges, population centers, and natural transportation facilities or barriers. But in the Adam Smith world of consumer resource hegemony, the focus on "who" became an obsession about a disembodied "what". And with the most macabre irony, the simple innovation of lines on maps gave rise to despotism, corruption, conflict, terrorism and faux sectarianism which has elicited the most odious of human behavior.
Making a map seems to be such an innocent undertaking. But this simple and vile impulse is the evidence of the pen not only being mightier than the sword - it is the unseen hand that animates the sword. Now to be clear, I'm not a nostalgic historicist. We've had ample conflicts across the entire human narrative and I'm not saying that maps drawn in London or Paris created human conflict. But what I am saying is that this innocuous intervention did create human conflict at industrial scale and this is taking humanity in the wrong direction. Far from MVP, the cartographer is evidence of a far more powerful principle - the maximum consequence fulcrum or MCF.
By the way - I coined that term and introduced it at business school lecture for the University of Notre Dame on Friday. So, Wikipedia, make sure you give me credit when this goes viral by someone who explains it better than me!
What is a Maximum Consequence Fulcrum? In its worst application, it is the use of remoteness, unverifiability, and anonymity to exert power that is taken, not given or earned. It is the story of empires, of Krimea, of the colonial Middle East and Asian subcontinent, of First Nations dislocated from the Americas and Australasia. Pick a place to which few travel, build a narrative about local practices which offend sensibilities, engineer fear of the foreigner and draw a map. Next thing you know, you can justify expeditionary warfare, slavery and oppression. Make up a story about Iran pursuing a nuclear weapon and then ask them to disprove the existence of what doesn't exist and you can get sophomoric Senators and Congressmen to grab pitchforks and lit firebrands to hunt and kill the witch. Throw a little Israeli-sympathizing apocalyptic fervor on it and you can get Christians to pine for the nostalgic days of the Crusades!
But in its best application, an MCF can identify an equally ubiquitous human endeavor - say eating - and think about how proximity, transparency, and deep connection (the antithesis of the abuse) can radically transform interpersonal relations. Tomorrow, I am giving the keynote address at the IFANCA 17th International Halal Food Conference in Schaumburg Illinois. In an era of maximum fear mongering by those who use religion to divide people, the transformative opportunities are equal and opposite. Since the 9th century, the religious mandates surrounding halal have not been about punitive and restrictive rules but rather about verifying that what we consume and how we consume should include a recognition of our interdependence on the bounty of the earth. Knowing that the food supply should be without contamination is as important to the Sunni Arab as it is to the spandex-clad yoga aficionado in Whole Foods. And there's every reason in the world to engage in a conversation that sees the wisdom that can be sourced from every tradition, every faith, every path and integrating that into the tapestry that is a life worth living. Good for humanity is not pathetic and incremental. It is bold, inclusive, and stretches convention. So lets chew on this idea for a bit and see if it digests a bit better than the tripe we've been fed for the last couple hundred years.