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the pleasure principle

the distribution of excitement and energy
in business organizations and technology

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service landscape
hedonic pricing
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Perhaps one of the most difficult areas of my work on the Component-Based Business relates to the notion of pleasure.
An important element of strategic thinking around a business process is to decide: which bits are to be routine and mechanical, consuming as little management time and attention as possible; and which bits are to be strategically interesting, on which management time and attention is to be focused. Thus some business services need to be as boring as possible, while others need to be as exciting as possible. And it’s important to get the balance right - too much excitement is painful or stressful, while too little excitement is death. This balance is a critical survival factor for the ecosystem as a whole; we call this the pleasure principle. >>>

A similar principle can be found in the design of services and interfaces. Sometimes the user wants to engage in leanforward mode, sometimes in leanback mode. Sometimes the designer needs to emphasize the sizzle, while sometimes the design follows the principle of least astonishment. >>>

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Principles of Pleasure

veryard projects > cbb > pleasure principle > principles

The use-value of business relationships, components and services depends, among other things, on the distribution of excitement and energy - the contours of pleasure.
The contours of pleasure shift over time - and can sometimes be influenced by strategic action.
The exchange-value of products and services includes an element of hedonic pricing.
An appreciation of the contours of pleasure is valuable for several areas of management support, including knowledge management and stress management.

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Designing Products and Services

veryard projects > cbb > pleasure principle > design

"When computers are at their most usable, we don't even notice them; when they are at their least, they astonish us."  (Peter Seebach, writing for IBM Developerworks, calls this the Principle of Least Astonishment.)  This is a very useful principle, but it doesn't go far enough.

Astonishment - an unwanted and unwelcome demand for the user's attention - represents a shift in the pleasure profile of the device. The Principle of Least Astonishment is apparently contradicted by the Principle of Sizzle, which applies to a range of product and service - not just end-consumer ones. Sizzle means directed attention, aroused interest, excitment.

Using componentry, we are enabled, encouraged and empowered (ha!) to separate the sizzle (the commodity provided by the device) from the steak (the device mechanism).

Neither the Principle of Least Astonishment nor the Principle of Sizzle are absolute principles, overriding all else. The designer should balance these principles with other factors, according to the Pleasure Principle.

The notion that technology should be invisible unless it sizzles is so widespread that we are sometimes unable to view technology in any other way. This leads to a powerful critique of technology by Albert Borgmann, who introduced the notion of the device paradigm to account for the increasing separation between the (visible, available) commodity provided by a device and the (invisible) device mechanism. In the worst case, this leads to a shallow and superficial engagement with the technological world.

When people are seriously engaged in a practice, then it may be okay for them to be astonished, startled, shocked, jolted out of their seats. If I'm committed to gathering knowledge about a particular topic, or monitoring the performance of a large organization, I should be alert to the small signs of incongruence, interference and intrigue. For this purpose, there is no valid separation between the medium and the message. And I neither want to be shielded from astonishment, nor irritated by sizzle. The Pleasure Principle (Least Astonishment/Sizzle) may be a good starting point, but for Good Design, I want to go Beyond the Pleasure Principle.

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The Debt to Freud

veryard projects > cbb > pleasure principle > debt to freud

One of Sigmund Freud's most important observations was that we cannot bear too much excitement, and that we generally try to steer a course between excitement and calm.  Freud called this the Pleasure Principle, and suggested that some unconscious homeostatic mechanism was at work,  A lot of apparently irrational behaviour may then be attributed to the workings of this pleasure principle.

Something like this seems to be at work in the business world as well, both in the behaviour of individual managers and in the emergent behaviour of organizations and markets.
more notes on bounded rationality and stress management (in preparation)

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

The Service Landscape - Contours of Pleasure

veryard projects > cbb > pleasure principle > service landscape

At a given time, some services are standard commodities, while others are special, yielding competitive advantage. Over time, some special services will become commodities.  Meanwhile providers seek to differentiate their services - and sometimes they succeed.  Thus the service landscape alters over time.
Tactical differentiators Foreground (or "leanforward") components gain value if they are interesting and attention-absorbing. 
Hygiene factors Background (or "leanback") components gain value if they are routine and require little or no attention.

Value (benefit, cost and risk) is distributed across the service landscape. Value comes from achieving an appropriate level/balance/distribution of excitement and attention. Strategic advantage involves the ability to appreciate and alter the shape of the service landscape - the contours of pleasure.
The value of a given service depends on the current landscape.
The value of a service depends on the prices of other services.
  • supply and demand
  • economics of scale/scope
The value of a service depends on the organization of demand.
  • value chain
  • value ladder

more > Veryard Projects paper on Component Diffusion (pdf)
more > Component Ecologies
> Web Service Strategy

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Algedonic Signalling - Pleasure and Pain as Messages

veryard projects > cbb > pleasure principle > algedonic signalling

Pleasure and pain can be regarded as messages, helping us to manage complex systems (including our own bodies). In his Viable Systems Model, Stafford Beer called this the algedonic signalling system (from the Greek word for pain). Algedonic signals are out-of-band signals that indicate that a system has been pushed outside its operating conditions.
more > Cavendish Software paper on Viable Systems Model (pdf)
> Jon Walker guide to Viable Systems Model (html)

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Hedonic Pricing

veryard projects > cbb > pleasure principle > hedonic pricing

Quality from Vitruvius to Gates

The Roman architect Vitruvius, who lived at the time of Jesus Christ, defined quality as commodity, firmness and delight.  Bill Gates has quoted and expanded upon this definition.
Vitruvius Gates
Firmness "Consistency"
Commodity “Be worthy of the user’s time and effort in understanding it”
Delight “Engagement, fun”

Utility and Hedonics

Hedonics sometimes indicates a degree of subjectivity (or bounded rationality), and is sometimes contrasted with Utility. Hedonics seems to correspond roughly to the Vitruvius concept of Delight, while utility corresponds to the seemingly more objective notions of Firmness and Commodity.

In domestic purchases of computers, a person may be willing to admit that they have purchased a more expensive model simply for aesthetic reasons.  Some cheap home computers are bulky and unattractive.  We might therefore expect to find particular emphasis on utility factors among purchasers of cheaper models, while hedonic factors would be stronger among purchasers of the more expensive models.

When the same person is buying computers for his/her company, however, there may be a reluctance to admit the influence of hedonic factors.  Instead, purchasers will explain the selection of more expensive models by claiming higher utility – even though sometimes these claims seem fairly thin or optimistic.

From the standpoint of a software producer (such as Mr Gates), it is important to understand and quantify the impact of all factors on the adoption and diffusion of software components, including the hedonic ones.

Economic Notion of Hedonics

This brings us to a different notion of hedonics, which includes all aspects of quality, rather than being contrasted with utility.  Economists have developed hedonic pricing models, to account for the costs and benefits of various aspects and characteristics of quality in the prices of goods and services. Hedonic pricing methods are also used by environmentalists for attaching value to public goods and ecological assets.

Hedonic pricing is a method for assessing the price-contribution of each quality characteristic, by analysing a class of similar products with differing quality characteristics.  It is used, among other things, to adjust productivity and other macroeconomic data – since in markets where there is a constantly rising level of product quality (both input and output) it would otherwise be impossible to compare productivity figures over time.  (This is of course particularly relevant in economic measurement of the IT industry.)

Diffusion theory demands something very similar to this.  If we want to compare the diffusions of various components across some landscape, over time, then it seems desirable to factor in the improvements in “quality” or other relevant characteristics that take place during our study. If I wait for six months before installing a new version of something, is this because (a) I’m waiting for the early bugs to be fixed, (b) I’m waiting until lots of people start sending me documents I cannot read without upgrading, or (c) I’m waiting until the price drops.
more Veryard Projects paper on Component Diffusion (pdf)
Hedonic Framing / Reframing
> Jack Triplett The Solow Productivity Paradox: What Do Computers Do to Productivity?
> Hedonic Pricing and Spatial Statistics
> OECD : DSTI - STI Working Papers

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This page last updated on June 14th, 2004
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