Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Present at the Beginning: a Variation on Lead Users

Lead-users are best described as: individuals -- "amateurs" (or at least non-participants in an incumbant industry) -- who are often at the forefront of a technology's generational change by refusing to wait for the industry incumbents to get around to their needs and, instead, often force the change to occur by doing it themselves. Typically, such "lead-users" are not only motivated to try-out new solutions for themselves, but to share these in open communities of others struggling with similar needs. They most often have no interest in continuing to produce their solution, once the problem has been solved, and might not even ever become the incumbent industry's customer.

What brings this to mind today is The New York Times obituary of Brian Rust, who is referred to as "the Father of modern discography."Since he was literally "present at the beginning of archival jazz research", Mr. Rust exerted enormous influence over the development of the field, even though he was neither a professional jazz musician, nor a historian. In the words of Bill Kirchner, who is both a professional jazz musican and historian: “Jazz research at its beginnings was the purview of dedicated amateurs. There was no precedent to dictate what the nature of it was going to be, and what the details were going to be. And he [Rust] was really one of those people who decided, ‘This is what it should encompass.’ ” Those of us who are jazz-lovers are indebted to Mr. Rust for his creation of The Columbia Master Book Discography. It exhibits the passion and devotion of an "amateur" love affair [the word amateur is French and denotes a "lover of". Alternatively, Mr. Rust might be considered a "naive expert", or someone from outside of the prevailing instutions within his field. Such "naive expertise" is often extremely effective at getting to the heart of the issues involved (while "institutional experts" revel in detail and trivia, and the improvement of the status quo.). One wonders what the field might be like today if it had been created by such "real experts," instead of by Mr. Rust?

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