Ashton Kutcher’s Tweet-Too-Soon and the Quality of Speed

The Penn State scandal left a lot of people blind sided, and no one more so than Ashton Kutcher. AsKashmir Hill describes in her ‘Google before you tweet’ post, Kutcher was tragically behind the news in a medium where, to quote a conversation I had with Forbes Chief Product Officer Lewis DVorkin, “Speed is Quality.”* Kutcher’s speed and immediacy has indeed been an important quality of his online success, since few genuine celebrities are willing to ride bareback as he has on Twitter.

The Penn State scandal left a lot of people blind sided, and no one more so than Ashton Kutcher. AsKashmir Hill describes in her ‘Google before you tweet’ post, Kutcher was tragically behind the news in a medium where, to quote a conversation I had with Forbes Chief Product Officer Lewis DVorkin, “Speed is Quality.”* Kutcher’s speed and immediacy has indeed been an important quality of his online success, since few genuine celebrities are willing to ride bareback as he has on Twitter.

But Kutcher’s quick retraction and promise to have his tweets vetted by his PR company didn’t salvage his reputation as much as slowing down a bit and reflecting (in public) on his need for speed would have. As online content producers, we’re all in this position of balancing our concern for propagation (now, now, now!) vs. persistance (and then, and then, and then…) Barring a takedown of the internet by Conficker, what you post or tweet will be with you forever. No question, the odds of something embarrassing surfacing in front of a potential employer, a curious electorate or future father-in-law can always be cut down by some prophylactic Googling. But slowing down is in itself a quality and one that can lead to better content, especially in its persistant form.

I’m a busy guy , and I don’t post as often or as immediately as I would like to. And though I sometimes feel like I’m letting the team down, many times I find that if I wait a beat something will emerge that gives me an original angle on something that I would have missed if I felt compelled to file immediately.

As a case in point, I write a blog for the City of Portland, Maine, calledLiveWork Portland that promotes the creative economy here to artists and entrepreneurs from away who might consider relocating to Portland. Last weekend I was covering a creative economy conference in Camden, Maine, called Juice 3.0. I wanted to write a post about what was distinctive about the creative entrepreneurs that I met at the conference and the kind of innovation culture that I see developing in Maine. Sure enough, a few days after the conference, The New Yorker shows up in my mailbox (yes, the physical magazine, not the app!) and Malcolm Gladwell has an article about Steve Jobsas a “tweaker.”

Gladwell’s point about Jobs is that his “sensibility was editorial, not inventive. His gift lay in taking what was in front of him … and ruthlessly refining it.” But even more important than his revisionist recasting of Jobs’ creative genius (still formidable) is his description of the origins of the Industrial Revolution in England:

One of the great puzzles of the industrial revolution is why it began in England. Why not France, or Germany? Many reasons have been offered. Britain had plentiful supplies of coal, for instance. It had a good patent system in place. It had relatively high labor costs, which encouraged the search for labor-saving innovations. In an article published earlier this year, however, the economists Ralf Meisenzahl and Joel Mokyr focus on a different explanation: the role of Britain’s human-capital advantage—in particular, on a group they call “tweakers.” They believe that Britain dominated the industrial revolution because it had a far larger population of skilled engineers and artisans than its competitors: resourceful and creative men who took the signature inventions of the industrial age and tweaked them—refined and perfected them, and made them work.

In 1779, Samuel Crompton, a retiring genius from Lancashire, invented the spinning mule, which made possible the mechanization of cotton manufacture. Yet England’s real advantage was that it had Henry Stones, of Horwich, who added metal rollers to the mule; and James Hargreaves, of Tottington, who figured out how to smooth the acceleration and deceleration of the spinning wheel; and William Kelly, of Glasgow, who worked out how to add water power to the draw stroke; and John Kennedy, of Manchester, who adapted the wheel to turn out fine counts; and, finally, Richard Roberts, also of Manchester, a master of precision machine tooling—and the tweaker’s tweaker. He created the “automatic” spinning mule: an exacting, high-speed, reliable rethinking of Crompton’s original creation. Such men, the economists argue, provided the “micro inventions necessary to make macro inventions highly productive and remunerative.”

And there I had it! That was my lead, that was my angle. What I had seen at the Juice conference was that the intersection of the creative economy and the innovation economy in Maine was being powered by a larger than average concentration of “tweakers.” What I have found in Portland and now in this network of innovation clusters spreading throughout the state is that kind of engineering of the possible that powered the Industrial Revolution and could well power the Post-Industrial one. And not only that. Just as I managed to get Ashton Kutcher into the headline and the lead of this post (quite organically, I think) I managed to get Steve Jobs into the LiveWork Portland post!

Paradoxically, learning to slow down can help you speed up when you need to. Years ago, I studied tai chi with the great William C.C. Chen, in New York. I was surprised to find out that many of Chen’s senior students were boxers and that the ultimate goal of this slow, peaceful, controlled movement was fighting. But sure enough, if you speed up those slow arm and leg movements you’ve got some dynamite punches and kicks at your disposal.

* See Lewis’s inaugural post at Forbes where he says , “In the ruckus of the online universe, quality is evolving. Right now, it’s more about timeliness.”
This entry was posted in Google, Internet, News & Information, Private Cona, Twitter and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Ashton Kutcher’s Tweet-Too-Soon and the Quality of Speed

  1. One of my all time favorite quotes appears extremely fitting here “Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practiced every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day. It is the accumulative weight of our disciplines and our judgments that leads us to either fortune or failure.”–Jim Rohn

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