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Open Thinking vs. Platform Thinking: A Meditation on Adorno

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“Open thinking points beyond itself. Beyond all specialized and particular content, [open] thinking is actually and above all the force of resistance …”  — Theodor W. Adorno, from “Resignation,” Collected in The Culture Industry.

In our rapid, collective development of the future, as well as in our lived experience of the present, we have come to depend so much upon platforms. Especially in technology.

But we use the term “platform” pretty broadly now, don’t we? I have heard people call all kinds of things a “platform.” Everything from an electronic device to a skill set to parenthood.

Whether we mean a specific hardware-software architecture, or something more metaphorical, we must remember that platforms are there not only to make possible specific activities, but also to set meaningful limits on those activities.

Like the chess platform — consisting of chessboard, chess pieces and the rule set itself — all platforms facilitate a rich set of activity, interaction and potential innovation. The chess platform makes the game possible in all its infinite combinations, on one hand, but it also constrains or limits what the game can be.

A platform provides utility. And a platform limits possibilities.

So platform thinking is playing within the rules of a game, and accepting the constraints inherent in that game. It’s incremental innovation space.

Open thinking, by contrast, is playing a different game, outside the limitations of the platform, that “specialized and particular content” to which Adorno refers. It’s a resistance, the kind of rebellion that can and sometimes does shift the paradigm. It’s pure innovation space.

It may mean supplanting the old platform with a new one.

Or it may mean moving beyond platforms entirely.

Either way, it’s cool.

Author: Eric Kingsbury

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