The “mullet strategy” as intellectual appliance

Img_0087 In the PSFK presentation last week, I encouraged the audience to collect "intellectual appliances" to aid the "pattern cognition."

And this morning, I read about the "mullet strategy" and wondered if it might be a candidate. 

Jonah Peretti, cofounder of The Huffington Post, uses this term to characterize HP’s editorial policy: "business up front, party in the back."  According to the mullet strategy, the front page of the website is "kept sharp" by professional editors while the back of the site is given over to the unedited, unsubstantiated "venting" of unpaid visitors. 

Could this be an candidate?  Appliances are little machines that help us think.  And the mullet strategy might be useful, first of all, as a way of thinking about any website that struggles to combine professional and user created content.  We may discover that this is the model that will help lots of websites work. We now have prior acquaintance, and we will be quicker to spot this model elsewhere. 

This pattern could prove useful for any commercial enterprise that wishes to work in consumer created content.  Now the pattern can sharpen our wits.   With this pattern at the ready, we are in a position to say, "oh, you know what could work here is the mullet strategy." 

Indeed, this may be, metaphorically speaking, a good way to speak about many models now emerging as capitalism is renovated by the disintermediating effects of the new technologies.  Once established as one of the ideas we have "on call," the mullet strategy may serve for many purposes.

Every idea, every pattern, has colonial intentions.  It would like to bend the world to its will.  In any case, like it or not, we all now live in a world where things are in steady flux.  So we want to entertain many patterns at the ready for recognition and cogition.

At this point, we can’t say that the mullet strategy has any real promise as an intellectual appliance.  The trick is to post it somewhere in the crowded airspace we call consciousness and see if we ever hear from it again.  It is a Millian economy.  We will use it again if we can use it again.  Really good patterns start from these modest beginnings and end up dominating things quite thoroughly.  (I remember when I first read Thomas Kuhn’s notion of "paradigm."  Here was an idea I could not stop using.) 

We really should have a Wiki for this sort of thing.   


Alterman, Eric.  2008.  Out of print.  The New Yorker.  March 31, 2008, pp. 48-59, p. 52. here

McCracken, Grant.  2008.  Pattern Cognition.  My PSFK presentation.  Available online at here

Kuhn, Thomas.  1962.  The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

6 thoughts on “The “mullet strategy” as intellectual appliance

  1. Eric Nehrlich

    I love the idea of intellectual appliances. One of my joys as a generalist is developing more perspectives with which to view the world, using ideas from several disciplines. I’m currently reading a book about Charlie Munger, who also emphasizes the importance of multiple perspectives, but having a tag to hang on the concept is really helpful when trying to explain it. Plus, I love the meta-ness that “intellectual appliance” is itself an intellectual appliance – it gets the idea across quickly that there are appropriate and inappropriate times in which to use a particular strategy, just like you can’t use a blender for everything.

  2. niko

    Is this not a just a rehash of what movie producers call high concept? I am all for it don’t get me wrong, but the very real danger as always seems to be that it will not be used not as an appliance ( a tool that in specific situations is usefull) but that people will resort to it like the hammer nail problem/solution. If all you have is a hammer, all problems…

    It’s like the mis-use of the word strategy. It to was a appliance of a kind to help make clear certain situations, now you can’t see a thing on tv( this by the way is my biggest gripe about reality tv) without people talking about how they have some sort of strategy to achieve something within the next 5 minutes. Basically what I am saying is that mental appliances in the hands of hacks (which is about 2/3 of the working people, yes myself included) become stereotypical, shallow and watered down set in stone dogma’s.

  3. Matt

    Some of the bigger so-called web 2.0 sites like YouTube and Wikipedia talked about the mullet strategy. Partly because they wanted to sell advertising to big brands on the front page and take advantage of the millions of page views. These brands wanted that front page to be all business, but YouTube, Wikipedia, etc, wanted to encourage the party in the back.

    But this mullet strategy is thinking about mass media when it’s likely better to think about relevant media. Googles adsense teaches us that mass media isn’t important. It’s not a smart buy to buy the front page of YouTube unless you’re a handful of brands that have universal appeal. Instead, it’s better to be in places that offer context and relevance. Then it’s less like an interruption and more like what’s going on contextually. In the part part even.

    More here:

  4. Richard Smith

    So, in other words, don’t take yourself too seriously? A good strategy for any academic (or business), I suspect.

  5. Michael Powell

    Grant, I only had a chance to see your slideshow of this talk, but it looked really interesting. Just wondering if you’ll have a chance (for the anthropologist geeks out there) to articulate how you define intellectual appliance versus/vis-a-vis some other cultural theory concepts like metaphor or “good to think with” or assemblage, etc. (Will there be a wiki?)

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t blame you for not wanting to delve into all that academic headache territory. Maybe you could explain your thoughts on that, otherwise.

  6. Michael Powell

    Ah, (sorry for another post before a response, but) now I remember what this thought reminded me of, it’s at the beginning of Geertz’s essay “Thick Description” where he talks about the academic fervor over the concept of culture. He suggests that there is a life course of this type of concept, similar to an intellectual appliance perhaps, where it is born and soon may become a “key to the universe” explainer before settling down and settling into a potential and maybe even common, everyday usage. That’s one theory, at least, though I’m not sure Geertz anticipated the erratic hype cycles in the contemporary business world.

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