Last week, I was in San Francisco watching people eat meat that was grown in a lab. But that's not what I'm writing about, it's just a footnote to the day. Flying out to California, I finished Singularity Rising, a book about the coming impact of Technology and AI and enhanced...well, you should really read it yourself.
One of the main stories in the book revolves around the use of additive genes in intelligence. An additive gene theory suggests that genetic traits cannot always be boiled down to a single gene, but rather there are a series of combinations of genes that when put together, yield useful traits. If there are 200 genes that can increase your intelligence, the combination would be more important than any single gene, and the addition of any one gene may increase your native intelligence, but only if it that's the correct combination. The same combination may give you autism, unless it's modified by another set of genes.
So we need to speak of genetic intelligence as additive to fully understand it, at the same time not trying to reduce it simply to the right listing of genes.
Western Science for thousands of years has focused on the principle of reduction. We take complex systems and we say, "This caused that." We've learned to specialize in a way that generates great knowledge about the small things, but tends to leave us perplexed when those small things don't add up to larger outcomes.
That outlook is not just applicable to the academy. It permeates everything we do, which is why marketers try to break down our campaigns into replicable parts.
1) Obtain an email list.
2) Send emails. Test, Tweak and Track.
3) Use email list to generate incoming phone calls.
4) Track success of incoming calls by new sales.
In each step, we try to maximize the small things. Should we buy the list or build our own? Do pictures work better or does text? Should we optimize for mobile or should we focus on desktop? Do the incoming calls close better if we put prices in the email? After we've sent the first batch, does the second batch of emails generate as many calls?
This is actually the scientific process at work. Form a hypothesis. Test a hypothesis. Replicate the test. Prove your theory again and again.
So what if the small things don't add up to a larger outcome? What if the second client's email campaign is not as successful as the first client's email campaign? What was done differently? Do we know? Was it the economy? The salespeople? New technology?
There's not always going to be an answer, which is why marketing is so hard. We know that we can generate some results, but we can't always replicate them, which suggests that luck can play a part.
Perhaps the additive theory is what we need to better understand what we're doing. Perhaps it's not just the small things we do, but the combination that matters. If that is case, and it certainly sounds reasonable, our approach to staff, vendor, and technology acquisition needs to focus on how the parts fit, instead of the composition of each part.