Nanette and Domino’s Pizza and TaxonomiesPosted: July 13, 2018
Really interested in this Schumpeter column in a recent issue of The Economist:
NOT many businesspeople study post-war French philosophy, but they could certainly learn from it. Michel Foucault, who died in 1984, argued that how you structure information is a source of power. A few of America’s most celebrated bosses, including Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett, understand this implicitly, adroitly manipulating how outsiders see their firms. It is one of the most important but least understood skills in business.
Foucault was obsessed with taxonomies, or how humans split the world into arbitrary mental categories in order “to tame the wild profusion of existing things”. When we flip these around, “we apprehend in one great leap…the exotic charm of another system of thought”. Imagine, for example, a supermarket organised by products’ vintage. Lettuces, haddock, custard and the New York Times would be grouped in an aisle called “items produced yesterday”. Scotch, string, cans of dog food and the discounted Celine Dion DVDs would be in the “made in 2008” aisle.
I’m always into it when CEOs have a bold claim on what kind of company they are, redefining their own classification. Here are some examples:
Or in Ugly Delicious when Dave Chang says Domino’s is a technology company:
Was thinking about how important taxonomy is. Take, for instance, Nanette:
How much of the staggered, overpowered reaction to this special comes from approaching it in the taxonomy “standup comedy” / “Netflix comedy special” and then having that classification broken/subverted?
Would it have a different effect if you experienced it in the category “Edinburgh Fringe Festival-style personal show,” an overlapping but different taxonomy?
What about how the Emmys has the categories “comedy” and “drama,” when it seems to me the cool nominees in both categories tend to blur and push the limits of those definitions?
Another example of taxonomic power from Charles C. Mann’s Reddit AMA: