Assimilation in Tech Development

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By Russ Ward (@russcward)

Imitation is the best form of flattery. Youve heard that cliche, right? Were going to talk about that a little bit today. But its actually about more than imitation – were going to talk about assimilation, and how you need to be doing it.

When the word “assimilation is used, all too often it has negative connotations – ideas of losing individuality. But it can also mean learning and improving.

When a new service or piece of software is created, it wont be perfect. There will be features that dont work exactly right, or that dont do exactly what users wish they would. And more often that not, small new features, plug-ins or services pop up to get those jobs done. This process is natural, but what sets the best apart is what they do when their platforms shortcomings are made visible.

The best platforms look at what assistive services are doing, and then, when they update, try to make them part of their own offering. If users are going to a separate service to fix the problems or the holes, they learn from that.

Weve seen this in a couple of instances recently. As Dan Licht discussed in our August 2nd Tech Forecast blog bost, the newest version of HTML, HTML5, is incorporating many of the features that made Flash a useful tool.

Similarly, Twitter has been testing internal functions to post photos, videos, and shortened URLs.

In both cases, they saw that people had been picking up where they left off, and rather than leaving the perfection of their platform to other people and other companies, they went back to the drawing board to improve their original offering themselves.

Is that going to make HTML5 the last word forever in online code? Is that going to make Twitter the best communications service that will ever be invented? Of course not. But its making a good product better.

Too often, people (and I think Im right in saying that its often us tech people) get mired in fatalist thinking. Theres no point improving what we have; other people have caught our mistakes and fixed them already. And even if we did make those changes, we still wouldnt be perfect – someone would still come along with something better, so why bother?

The funny thing is, but while those arguments are heard pretty often on the tech side, the actual scientists in pharma arent too likely to be saying anything like that. Scientists are used to testing slightly different versions – studying a molecule, tweaking it in the hope of improving its benefit. Scientists appreciate incremental benefit, and theyre not too choosy to work from other peoples results. Science would be at a standstill if researchers didnt work from each others findings.

So: why tweak your work to incorporate improvements that someone else has made? Because learning is progressive. Because perfection is a myth. Because you have something good enough to improve. So you need to look at your work again and wonder:

If I have something good enough that other people are improving it, why arent I?

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