On the Importance of Reinvention

reinvention graphic

On May 31st, AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire began their second season in a surprising manner. The first season told the story of Cardiff Electric, which was forced into manufacturing a competitor to the IBM computers of the early 1980s. All of the things involved in the design, engineering, and marketing of a new computer served as a catalyst for the three main characters: Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace), the slick, manipulative Steve-Jobs-esque idea man, Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), the down-to-earth engineer-turned-businessman, and Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis), the young, rebellious, brash hacker and programmer who starts her own company creating multiplayer games in a world before the World Wide Web called Mutiny after leaving Cardiff near the end of the first season.

While it might seem like a neat transition, it left open a lot of story threads, and the ambiguities are still festering in the back of my head despite what seem to be haphazard attempts to tie everything up through the vector of several casual conversations. Only a scene in which thescene in which the shareholders of Cardiff receive their payouts even revisits their old office building. The new season instead is focused around houses: Joe and his girlfriend talking with friends on a back patio, Gordon doing cocaine while programming in his garage, and Cameron running Mutiny out of a residence, with all of her programmers living in the house and writing code in a bullpen of sorts.

I loved the first season of Halt and Catch Fire, and despite being broadsided by the tires-squealing change of the plot’s direction, I’ve been enjoying this season just as much, if not more. They’ve settled into a distinct visual style and are tending towards the more cerebral and character-driven.

While I’m certain that they could have explored the Cardiff Electric storyline for another season, if not more, I think anthologizing each season increases the effectiveness of the remarkably complete story told by the first season. Season two, while keeping the same characters, has effectively become a completely different show. It shifted the minor setting while staying in Texas’ Silicon Prairie, and now is focusing on the intertwining lives of the characters previously held together by Cardiff’s gravitational pull.

There’s a more general point to be made from this sudden pivot, and it is this: if there is a better option to do a certain thing, don’t be afraid to completely tear down everything and reinvent from the ground up. It is important to be flexible and willing to admit when there is a better solution to your problem, even though it might destroy hours and hours of effort.

Cost-Benefit

In Steve Jobs’ seminal biography, there is an anecdote about the early stages of development for the first Apple Store. I’d recommend the entire book without a single caveat, but a particular bit in Chapter 29 is relevant here.

Steve Jobs was working on the planning for the Apple Store launch with executive Ron Johnson when Johnson came to him about a major problem with the concept: instead of organizing the store around activity, which was Jobs’ main selling point for Apple computers, it was organized around product line. Johnson went to Jobs in the early morning and told him that. Jobs erupted:

“Do you know what a big change this is? I’ve worked my ass off on this store for six months, and now you want to change everything!”

Quieting, he then said:

“I’m tired. I don’t know if I can design another store from scratch.”

At a presentation later that day, a deflated Jobs conceded that Ron was right. He admitted to the board that the store needed a major redesign, which would delay the rollout by several months.

We’ve only got one chance to get it right.Steve Jobs

It is not an easy thing, to admit when a reinvention is needed. Many hours of work are seemingly wasted, profits are delayed or even lost completely, and there is always uncertainty. However, uncertainty over whether a reinvention will take hold is always better than the doomed certainty that an inferior idea will not succeed. In creating things, we should see the idea-creation-better idea-reinvention cycle as a necessary thing and reinvention as something to be embraced. The better, more successful ideas simply could not happen were it not for the first two steps of that cycle.

It takes courage to admit when something, especially something one is personally invested in, has flaws and is in need of major change. Reinvention is, however, both necessary and desirable. Let us not get too attached to our pet ideas, lest we be blinded to better ideas lurking around the corner.

Coda

I originally intended for this website to be a personal homepage and an archive of all of my various projects, but I really have only developed one particular aspect of that: the blog. I use this as a platform for opinion pieces that I or my friends have written, photos I have taken, and things I have reviewed.

In light of that, I’ve reinvented this website: hiding the sections about me and my projects to just the top menu, and redesigning the homepage to look more traditionally newsmagazine-like. It is structured like so: the header and menu at the top are unchanged, but the homepage, instead of sporting a lame description of the site and a milquetoast call-to-action, now consists of three main sections:

  1. a “featured article” with large graphic, title, paragraph, and read more link
  2. a “guest post” section at the bottom, with the graphic and title of two to three posts written by collaborators
  3. a right-aligned sidebar simply displaying recent posts

This fits the focus of this as a place to read articles, rather than learn about all of my projects, nicely. I welcome your feedback.

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