Scheduling

Plans are containers for snappy bits.

“It is a curse having the epic temperament in an overcrowded age devoted to snappy bits!” That’s me thinking about Humaginarium in 2020 — quoting JRR Tolkien thinking about The Lord of the Rings in 1944.

Both projects (his and mine) are gigantic and erudite, yet made for untutored masses with purportedly short attention spans. How odd! Both are outlandish and amusing, steeped in adult fantasy and occult imagery, yet each feels natural and familiar to regular folks who are purportedly empirical and pragmatic. How peculiar! Tolkien’s project characterized the deranged evil that threatened himself, his family and friends and civilization. Mine models poorly controlled illness that threatens me, my family and friends and civilization. How curious! Nobody paid Tolkien to devote years of his life to his project. He was merely asked to write a sequel to a successful children’s book. Nobody has paid me to persist in my project after my first successful startup, yet I do. How strange!

We both know why. Epic undertakings occur because their makers want them, not because “users” or “customers” demand or even expect them. The efforts such undertakings require are their own sweet reward, not a down payment on fame and fortune that may never come. Large, innovative projects have no ulterior motive. They truly exist for their own sake, though makers may want them to change the world a little, for the better: in my case to make it a happier and healthier place to live, in Tolkien’s to justify a personal commitment to virtue in a fallen world. When makers work hard, great things may come about. It’s just possible. On the other hand their projects may fail, they may give up and turn back. When that happens, problems like evil and illness may become even harder to fathom, as though the human spirit perceives them and doesn’t care. The fallen world doesn’t change, but its problems do. They grow worse.

An epic temperament is all very well. It’s the mother of invention. It kept Tolkien going and keeps me going more conscientiously than orders and lucre ever have. What makes the temperament a curse is not the inspiration, but the perspiration. The curse of snappy bits: pesky details of how and when things will be made. As avaricious angels — who may have never had an original idea of their own — are fond of saying to makers: “ideas are basically worthless.” Execution matters. Stuff has value. If it doesn’t sell it doesn’t count.

Stuff rarely just happens. It must be inspired, ideated, investigated, planned, prepared, washed-dried-ironed-folded, assigned, designed, developed, tested again and again, repaired and refined and finally launched — or at least saddled and walked out of the barn. Tolkien did that with The Lord of the Rings. He not only wrote and typed and recited his story again and again for years before it was printed. He also wrote a “history” of the different world in which his story unfolds; he invented languages spoken there, animated deities adored and feared there, empowered supernatural laws and fierce traditions that shaped reality there; and he created newfangled geography, morphology, astronomy and physics so his story would make perfect internal sense to every one of the purported nincompoops who would eventually buy and read his very long and complicated novel. He did all of this not to please them, but to please himself and a few individuals he loved. He had no customers or bosses or investors or contracts, so he made The Lord of the Rings in his spare time after work while raising a family, and gardening, and fixing the plumbing, and running errands on his bicycle. How impractical! What a stupendously foolish way to create one of the most beloved and best selling stories of all time! If only there had been an Innovation Corps or incubator or creative writing program to show him how to do things the right way!

Tolkien and I planned our respective projects. Plans are containers for snappy bits. They tell makers what will be done, by when, for how long, by whom, with what results. Plans are details of execution: how an epic temperament actually makes the things it wants.

Unlike Tolkien, my plan is a schedule. Correction: right now it is the outline of a schedule. Relatively little is scheduled just yet, just enough to inform the National Science Foundation how my execution will play out. For this reason, Dave Walker and I have begun writing a proper schedule: him in Microsoft Project, me in Merlin Project. What snappy bits may our schedule contain? Here’s what I know:

  1. The project is named Diabetes Agonistes
  2. The start date is April 4, 2020
  3. It has three phases: preparatory, generative, evaluative
  4. Preparatory ends no later than September 2020
  5. Generative and evaluative end no later than June 2021
  6. The schedule involves 24 credentialed professionals
  7. It also involves 2000 online testers (the “nincompoops”)
  8. The project produces evidence rather than product
  9. Evidence lowers the risks of product development that follows
  10. Evidence is collected in five milestone deliverables
  11. Milestone deliverables cohere in a modular proof of concept
  12. The project allocates cash of $233,613 and equivalent sweat equity

The preparatory phase, which we’re in now, produces our detailed project schedule, two websites, seven briefs, and an ineluctable sense that the epic temperament of Humaginarium is mastering the snappy bits and throwing off a nagging curse, in our overcrowded age: turning “worthless ideas” into treasure worthy of Khazad-dûm.

One Word

We in our time, in our world, can master fate with one unchanging and unfaltering word.

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.

I recalled Tolkien’s incantation during a recent marketing workshop for startups. A facilitator had been lulling me to sleep with familiar bromides about 5 Cs and 5 Ps. Then suddenly she posed a striking question! A really good puzzler that I never before tried to answer and wasn’t sure I could.

“In this challenge,” she said, “you’ll choose one word that epitomizes the difference between Humaginarium and its competitors. One word you’ll coin that others can’t credibly use. One you’ll own that others can’t easily copy. Everything in Humaginarium will sum up to it. Customers will value and love its meaning, because it’s the generative organ of your brand.”

OMG! I expected to struggle for weeks or months and eventually give it up. After all, I’ve used tens of thousands of words to discover, explain, and promote Humaginarium. Distilling my sea of rhetoric into a single sparkling drop felt impossible. I squirmed, “This is ridiculous. Who cares about one word anyway? Why not two or ten or fifty? Why does one matter?”

The incantation reveals why it matters. Follow along here, I’m unpacking an analogy. I pondered: which one of my words can rule all the others and lead inevitably to them? Which corral my verbiage into a pattern or system or way? Which bind my jabberwocky to an elegant purpose that goes deeper and wider over time but never changes or falters? Which become a beacon that guides consumers to harbors they seek? I came to believe, reluctantly, that one word isn’t impossible. It’s crucial, and I need to know what it is.

The usual suspects were plainly wrong. For example, my word can’t be functional – concerned with how Humaginarium works or is made. Words like simulative, complicated, responsive, interactive, educational, streaming, informative, personalized, adaptive, entertaining, or immersive don’t cut it. Everybody has a version of those things. Functional is not experiential; it’s merely procedural. Neither can my word be conceptual – marshmallows like a brand name, an operating principle, a core belief, a price point or business model. Conceptual is not experiential; it’s spongy. And neither can my word be metaphorical – allusive like a symbol, a token, or an invocation. Metaphorical is not experiential; it’s tricky.

My one word had to connote the wondrous thing that happens when people experience Humaginarium that doesn’t happen when they experience my competitors. The word for that is uplifting.

Uplifting is the cumulative effect of improvement. It’s growth in strength and stature, grace and capability. Uplifting manifests in biology as homeostasis; in religion as zen; in behavior as flow; in learning as vision. To be uplifting is to concentrate rather than divert attention like so much entertainment does. To inspire, embolden, make resilient and curious. Uplifting is having less to fear and more to enjoy.

Every way I look it, this word seems appropriately generative. As video game entertainment, Humaginarium is uplifting: rather than facilitate escape or denial, it returns people to the real world with more understanding and appreciation of themselves. As health education, Humaginarium is uplifting: rather than bewilder and frighten people with medical jargon, it endows them with control of a human body that suddenly makes sense and is actually quite miraculous. As a diagnostic tool, Humaginarium is uplifting: rather than outrageously prescriptive and bureaucratic like 99% of health education, it nudges people to make excellent choices in their informed self-interest. Finally above all, as a work of art Humaginarium is uplifting: it’s gobsmacking cool to look at, play with, learn from, and build on.

Thus my one word, and this is where the magical incantation breaks down. In Middle Earth the One Ring belongs to the darkness. In Humaginarium, the one word belongs to the light. I suppose elves, men, and hobbits were unequal to the solemn power of the Ring, but we in our time, in our world, can master our fate with one unchanging and unfaltering word.

Unit

The unit isn’t complicated; it’s just unprecedented and seems hard.

We’re starting to research and build a commercialization model. The job is described in a link on our new website. Select the Resources menu in the upper right corner of any page, then pick Commercialization. A 24-step method opens in a new window. It’s a little challenging to execute, so your suggestions will be very welcome indeed.

The job is supported by an experiential learning cohort at the Northern Illinois University College of Business. Humaginarium is blessed to have these smart, ambitious and personable consultants at its side.

The first hurdle we face is our unit. For those who haven’t plumbed the depths of financial analysis, a unit is an average instance of what we make and sell. We define a unit in order to estimate its economic value over time at scale. A logical, evidence-based estimate is a prerequisite for engaging investors in 2019.

So what is our unit? It’s a “bundle” of products and services that fulfills a singular purpose for consumers. That purpose is also known as our brand promise and value proposition. Our unit has four integrated components:

  • Platform
  • Game
  • Diagnostic
  • Community

Our platform tempts customers with trailers and mini-games. It frames chronic illness as the non-intuitive subject of entertainment. It offers a menu of full-scale games that are now available or coming soon. It highlights post-game components of diagnostic and community. The call to action is an invitation to create a free account. Only account owners have access to other functional components of the unit.

A game is an immersive, interactive science fiction fantasy. On desktop or mobile screens, players contest with morbidity encroaching on the human body and spirit. They search out this enemy in order to interrogate, contain, or destroy it. Meantime the enemy sets traps to foil or vanquish players. Game mechanics are mediated by a dynamic, high-fidelity simulation of human physiology. This is real biology projected into fantasy. Players have to outsmart an ingenious enemy, the product of eons of evolution, in order to win. The emphasis on cognitive skills makes this experience a puzzling strategy adventure.

Customers keep playing a game until they achieve a satisfactory goal; or switch to a different game; or choose to leave the magic ring of fantasy and cross into real life. Just outside the ring is a diagnostic that processes personal data relevant to a disease faced in the game. The diagnostic identifies risk factors. It lets customers mitigate personal risks with lifestyle and medicinal choices. It also models purported outcomes of their choices until they’re ready to cement them in resolutions. Modeling is therapeutic in that it helps customers make informed choices in light of their own self-interest.

After a diagnostic customers can join a safe social network (moderated and closed) where they assemble or join communities of interest centered on chronic illness, or game play, or objective health science; or anything else they deem useful or meaningful. Like Quora, the purpose of community is peer-to-peer learning. What’s learned in a game is applied in a diagnostic and reinforced in a community. Community is a controlled environment for meaningful self-disclosure.

All customer experience of a unit is elective. Customers may use some components and ignore others though full value comes from using all of them.

Having said all of this I now wonder, is the unit too complicated? Using the methodology in our outline, I try to answer the question with analogies. Is our unit as complicated as the computer on my desk or phone in my pocket? No, far less complicated than that. Is it as complicated as surgery or marriage? Not even close. Is it as complicated as a building by Frank Lloyd Wright, a combine by Robert Rauschenberg, or a concerto by Philip Glass? Of course not. Is it as complicated as the novels of JRR Tolkien or video games of Sid Meier? Give me a break.

The unit isn’t complicated; it’s just unprecedented and therefore seems hard. The method we use to model commercialization may demonstrate that our components are really not unprecedented, but the bundling is.

Scientific entertainment. Variation on The Wave, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau