My mobile office moved to the frigid Canadian Prairies this month. That means my year ended with frozen fingers and a bout of cabin fever. This month’s info dump is dominated by the end-of-year parade of new-word lists. Enjoy and have a well-aimed launch into the new year.
— Peter Stoyko (December 31, 2012)

[ Cover: Ruth Abernathy's sculpture Imagine (2008) in Winnipeg's Warehouse district. ]

JARGON

Co-robotics. Instead of working alone, future robots will work with humans to augment our capabilities. The field of collaborative robot design is called “co-robotics”. So says Alex Hutchinson in his annual list of tech terms you need to know for the coming year (in Popular Mechanics magazine). Some other terms: nanopore sequencing (faster, cheaper DNA sequencing), IGZO display (higher resolution screens), and space fence (space-debris-tracking system).

Cost Disease. It’s the idea that personally delivered services will become ever-more expensive, relative to other goods and services, because there’s a limit to how much you can increase the productivity of an hour of labour. The term is from William Baumol’s The Cost Disease (2012) and is also called Baumol’s Disease.

Demotorisation. (or -zation) It’s the Japanese term for youths foregoing vehicle ownership in favour of public transportation and spending hard-earned money on cheaper status symbols. Unsurprisingly, it’s a trend not limited to Japan, given demographic trends in personal debt and discretionary income.

Farpotshket. Yiddish. Something gets broken because someone tried to fix it.

Fragilista. Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile (2012) contains many great coinages. The term “antifragile” doesn’t just mean resilient or robust—the ability to bounce back from turmoil or resist stressors—but refers to something that thrives on stressors. These antifragile systems, which are prevalent in nature, are less vulnerable to breakdown. “Fragilista” refers to the class of busybody advocating things that inadvertently encourage vulnerability, often under the pretence of “protecting”, “securing”, or “stabilising”.

Management by Perkele. It’s a Swedish term that includes a Finnish swear word. It means “rule like the Thunder God”: quick-to-judgement, heavy-handed bossiness; the opposite of drawn-out consensus-building. The term implies a difference in decision-making styles within Finland (fast) and Sweden (slow).

Meggings. Male leggings. Apparently, it’s the fashion word of the year. Once a trendy fashion term enters popular discourse, it’s usually a sign that the fashion-design pendulum is about to swing in the other direction.

Obesogenic. A factor that encourages people to be overweight (from this annual list). As you’d expect, this type of coinage spreads because science-sounding adjectives seem more authoritative.

Oma Export. “Granny export” is Heribert Prantl’s term for the German practice of shipping the elderly to countries where the cost of elder care is lower. File under demographic pressure and “cost disease” (see above).

Omakase Fight. Community-based (open-source) software-development projects can become bun fights as various advocates want a say in the project’s direction. Yet, these projects remain under the stewardship of a single leader or core group. The projects are not à la carte, as David Heinemeier Hansson puts it, they’re omakase (the Japanese term used in sushi restaurants); that is to say, users don’t get to pick and choose what they want because selection decisions are deferred to the better judgement of a knowledgable expert. That decision rule can cause conflict with those advocates who don’t want to vote with their feet. Heinemeier Hansson calls the resulting war of words an omakase fight. Are omakase fights inherent to community-based development? How sustainable is omakase decision-making in an era where deference is declining, or in projects full of populists who aren’t very deferential to begin with?

Qualia. The subjective part of sense perception.

Selfie. A picture you take of yourself. (See Ben Zimmer’s annual trendy words list.)

Shoptimisation. (or -ization) There’s nothing new about making consumer transactions more efficient. But when you think about all of the customer education, comparison shopping, ad dodging, and computer-interface clutter, perhaps there is a need for a concept about streamlining the shopping experience. Shoptimisation comes from Rohit Bhargava’s 15 Marketing Trends in 2013 … (2012). The question I have, however, is whether it’s more than just streamlining and includes optimising the less functional aspects of the shopping experience. For example, does it mean amplifying the conspicuousness of conspicuous consumption?

Shukatsu. Japanese for “end activities”. It’s a homonym of “job hunting” but means making preparations for the end. (It’s from this list of the popular Japanese buzzwords of 2012.)

The Stacks. What Bruce Sterling calls the big vertically integrated tech companies, a.k.a. Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook. This term presumably replaces “walled gardens” and “tech silos”; a slightly different emphasis on the reduced interoperability caused by the social-media-and-app economy.

Turboparalysis. Michael Lind’s term for lots of motion but no progress. Is that a problem of aimless busywork and ill-concieved half-measures? Or of the potency of the limiters that surround us?

Voluncation. Go to a remote, downtrodden locale for your vacation time to lend a benevolent hand. That’s a voluncation. The free labour is probably more trouble than it’s worth. But at least the tourists drop a lot of cash in the process.

Wuli. The fashionable approach to rapid development: (a.) MVP (minimal viable product); (b.) iterate, iterate, iterate (fix and improve); (c.) pivot (change direction if need be). Perhaps something can be learned from Nonaka & Zhu’s brand of pragmatism: (a.) wuli (get the fundamentals right); (b.) shili (promote situated creativity among everyone involved); (c.) renli (create common goodness). From the book Pragmatic Strategy (2012).

Yoloneliness. Even Charlie Brooker has a word list this month, albeit a sarcastic one. My favourite entry is “yoloneliness”, a play on this year’s biggest texting acronym YOLO (you only live once). Brooker’s version: “The powerful sense of isolation a bewildered 21st century idiot attempts to stave off by bragging about his or her witless exploits on social networks, accompanying each boast with a modish hashtag.”

Also see… the ways metaphors are misused.

HEAD SPACE

Mastery. Robert Greene’s new book Mastery (2012) looks at the different strategies that people use to figure out their calling in life and subsequently get very good at it. Greene is a strategist who writes encyclopaedic books (The 48 Laws of Power, 2000; The 33 Strategies of War, 2007). It’s interesting to see how he breaks down the various approaches to finding a calling (primal inclination, perfect niche, rebellious streak, etc.) and surveys the different strategies for acquiring knowledge and skills, as well as thinking creativity.

SOCIAL SPACE

The Unacceptable. Those interested in reactionary moral-panics, social taboos, and legal restrictions on behaviour will want to check out Potts & Scannell, eds., The Unacceptable (2012). What makes something “unacceptable” or “intolerable” within a collective?

Security. Bruce Schneier has a good review of Harvey Molotch’s Against Security (2012).

WORKPLACE

Self-Sabotaging Customer. These days, designers aspire to create customer-centric (or human-centric) services. That means accounting for human biases, blind-spots, and mental traps. It means accommodating differences in personal aptitudes, preferences, and styles. Breakdowns shouldn’t happen because the customer is unfamiliar with the service or easily confused. But what about accommodating the self-sabotaging customer (the customer who inadvertently does everything wrong or habitually does things that undermine self-interest)? Jeff Toister talks about that and a few other hard cases (such as “learned helplessness”) in his new book Service Failure (2013). For service designers.

Teaming. From Amy Edmondson’s book Teaming (2012): “Teaming is a verb. It is a dynamic activity, not a bounded, static entity. It is largely determined by the mindset and practices of teamwork, not by the design and structures of effective teams. Teaming is teamwork on the fly. It involves coordinating and collaborating without the benefit of stable team structures, because many operations, such as hospitals, power plants, and military installations, require a level of staffing flexibility that makes stable team composition rare.” Whatever you call it—teaming, podding, platooning—the ever-changing work-group seems to be a big theme this year.

Sell Job. Daniel Pink’s new book To Sell Is Human (2013) was released today. It’s basically about the role of persuading, convincing, and influencing in everyday life. This is the leadership pick of the month.

TRENDS

National vs Human Insecurity. There’s something impoverished about the worldview of foreign-policy wonks. They give far too much credit to the most heavily constrained and marginalised state actors in rich countries, such as diplomats and military decision-makers. So it’s unsurprising that the U.S. National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds (2012) report talks about the “increased potential for conflict”, “governance gaps”, “regional instability”, and the like. It’s all very self-serving, of course. Nonetheless, the report is worth a look. More interesting: the evident trends in human insecurity, as opposed to national insecurity, found in the Human Security Report 2012 (2012).

Forecasting. The free winter issue of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer is available. If you want to know what’ going on in the financial system, broadly speaking, you look to James Grant’s analysis. The lead article is quite a finger-wag at economic forecasting: “Practitioners whom Mr. Market has taken to school know better than to think they can predict the future. Rare is the Ph.D. with practical instruction in the field of margin calls, client redemptions or unsightly drawdowns. It is easier to believe that one can forecast coming events when one hasn’t been punished for trying.” (p. 2)

Trendrede. The English translation of Kniesmeijer & Boland’s polemical Trend Speech 2013 is available. The technocratic professions of the future: direction motivator, data pilot, and holistic manager.

Future Trends. A new report prepared by Global Futures & Foresight. The report is mostly boilerplate. I notice that getting users to provide tech support to each other by setting up an online forum is now called “unsourcing” instead of “neglecting”.

Sex Selection. A comment by me about an overlooked “megatrend”.

DESIGN

Typography. I love Rúben Dias’ Taca typeface. It complements one of my vector-illustration styles, a style which always uses slightly arc’d lines instead of straight lines. A nod goes out to Tomas Brousil’s Tobac Slab. Some excellent low-cost, sans-serif, workhorse typefaces: Neil Sommerour’s Macha and Anago families.

Architecture. I’m a big fan of Japanese architectural aesthetics. So I’m happy about Buhrs & Rossler’s book Terunobu Fujimori: Architect (2012), featuring lots of great pics of Fujimori’s wacky stilt-houses.

Sketchnotes. Mike Rohde’s The Sketchnote Handbook (2012) is out and shows the state of the art of visual note-taking. There are lots of how-to lessons, as you can see here. This is another dimension of the culture’s evolving visual literacy.

Service Design Tools. A collection.

Biodesign. Living organisms have qualities that designers can make use of. William Myers’ new book BioDesign: Nature + Science + Creativity (2012) displays a number of interesting case studies.

FITNESS

Stride. For me, the last two months have been about perfecting my running stride. I found this video to be particularly useful. I run 10 kilometres three times a week. I don’t heel strike. But the slower pace of winter running is muddling my form, hence the need to be mindful of good technique.

Walking To Work. The novelist Neal Stephenson writes while walking on a treadmill, which he discusses in a new collection of essays, Some Remarks (2012). He wonders why treadmill workstations aren’t commonplace given the harms caused by too much sitting: “[Large] organizations tend to prefer the devil they know to the devil they don’t. They’re accustomed to the workers suffering carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain, and the like. But an epidemic of knee or foot problems would show up on their books as new cost, directly chargeable to the use of treadmills at work. A reduction in sitting-related medical claims probably wouldn’t be credited to the same program, though, since there’s no way to prove that a reduction in someone’s triglycerides or an easing of their shoulder pain is down to their use of a treadmill.” (p. 14) Attribution errors of that sort are the cause of all sorts of organisational rigidity.

Disease Burden. A big comparative study of risk factors tracks trends over last 20 years. And the population is getting fatter and living longer, which is a coincidence, not a paradox.

MEDIA

Thoughtful China. Everyone’s favourite jellyfish got me watching this chat show about biz trends in China.

Port. A British magazine available on the iPad.

QUOTATIONS

Infographic. “You keep using that word (infographic). I do not think it means what you think it means.” — David Gouldin (from Twitter)

Jargon. “When you speak in jargon, you are broadcasting, ‘I am captured by my sources.’” — Heidi N. Moore (from Twitter)

Risking Failure. “I remember reading a review that Pauline Kael wrote about some [film] director’s big epic, and she said: Now, look, it might seem unfair to judge a talented man more harshly when he tries to do something big than a less talented person who’s doing something easier. But when you try big things, you take big risks, and if you’re trying to do something that is maybe above you and you can’t quite pull off, then whereas before we only saw your gifts, now we see your failings. I’ve always been pushing that envelope. … I don’t ever want to fail, but I want to risk failure every time out of the gate.” — Quentin Tarantino (from this interview)

Loser. “[My] characterization of a loser is someone who, after making a mistake, doesn’t introspect, doesn’t exploit it, feels embarrassed and defensive rather than enriched with a new piece of information, and tries to explain why he made the mistake rather than moving on. These types often consider themselves the ‘victims’ of some large plot, a bad boss, or bad weather.” — Nassim Nicholas Taleb (from Antifragile, 2012)

Spread of Touch Devices. “‘I got rid of a computer for Xmas’ is the new ‘I got a computer for Xmas.’” — Bruce Sterling (from his state-of-the-world update)

Being Invested in What You Oppose. “I love those ‘civil society’ guys. There’s a group here in Belgrade called the ‘Center for Cultural Decontamination’ that’s been civilly decontaminating for, gosh, must be twenty years now. Things never feel any less contaminated for them. One gets the impression that, although they don’t exactly love the contamination, they’d be at a loss for what to do without it.” — Bruce Sterling (again)

What Black Says. “Black is modest and arrogant at the same time. Black is lazy and easy—but mysterious. … But above all black says this: ‘I don’t bother you—don’t bother me!’” — Yohji Yamamoto (A new book about his work just came out.)

Shouting. “If you keep shouting, you are not making communication any better. You are only removing talking and whispering from the system.” — Bruno Monguzzi

Stock-market Instability. “Until we can safely manage complex and massive message streams in microseconds, fragmentation is making one of the greatest financial markets of all time about as stable as a McLaren with its RPMs buried in the red.” — Larry Tabb (as quoted in this report about algorithm mischief)

FORTHCOMING

Design Influence. Alice Rawsthorn’s Hello World: Where Design Meets Life (2013) is out in March. Design ethnographers will want this one. The book is about how design affects people’s lives, including some historical perspective on the subject.

Persistence of Organisation. Fisman & Sullivan’s The Org (2013) promises to be an exploration of why organisations persist despite the frustrations. An apologia or a socially astute analysis? We’ll find out in mid-January. Also of interest, Francesca Gino’s Sidetracked (2013), about how decisions get derailed in organisations (out in March).