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Rant: Slebs and Tech Make a Rum Cocktail

Ashton Kutcher is to be Lenovo’s New Product Engineer. That is the undeniable jist of it, no matter how many variants news aggregator website Techmeme supplied a couple of days ago. The initial reaction is to look for the joke, check you’re not dreaming but no, Ashton Kutcher is to be a product engineer at Lenovo. It’s a career move that seems analogous to Daniel Day-Lewis quitting Hollywood to be a shoe-maker but really, the movie star helping out with Lenovo’s next piece of kit shouldn’t have come as such a surprise. After all, on the same day British ‘funny man’ Jonathan Ross was made a Microsoft executive producer. So what’s going on?

It’s shtick-y but this shtick has form. BlackBerry made Alicia Keys its creative director in January this year and Intel made Will.i.am director of creative innovation two-and-a-half years ago. Perhaps I’m wrong but it seems very likely that this group of individuals will not be significantly accretive to the development of their respective companies’ products, creativity or ability to innovate. What these companies are buying is some sort of kudos and cool… they’re striving for relevance and brand association. And it’s truly horrible.

Fair’s fair, Kutcher is a techie who can code and started out on an engineering degree. Which makes him maybe the most dangerous of them all. It was reported that Kutcher wanted to be involved in R&D at Lenovo, one of the standout successes in recent IBM-compatible personal computer history.

He told ABC:

“I’m actually heading to Beijing tonight and I am going to be working for the rest of the week with the R&D team there. It is a relatively new relationship; we have been working with each other for a couple of weeks. My first job is to learn as much as I can and to really spend a lot of time with the products. I am going to gain insight and then try and apply some of the things I know about consumer software and technology to the hardware devices.”

“My first order is to learn. It is easy to come in and say we need to do this and that. I have a list of probably 50 wishes that are like my dream wish -- where I go if the next-gen tablet should have these things and that would be awesome. But for me to start talking about the notion that we can apply those things would be really naive. Because to assume that the team is already there that has been building and working on the product roadmap that's probably longer than my vision would be silly.”

So, why is he there, talking to engineers when it would be “really naïve” to tell them how to do their jobs? Because he’s a star and in the wonky world of celebrity that entitles you to lots of things: throwing stuff, acting the diva, assuming you can save the world, building a significantly better tablet computer…

Imagine if Ashton Kutcher did get involved and was allowed to live up to his job title. It would be like the episode of The Simpsons where Homer designs a car.

Or maybe I’m being overly sceptical. If you’re going to be really creative here how about getting them in the room to brainstorm this stuff.

KUTCHER: OK guys, I need an idea for the next (does Steve Jobs voice) insanely great thing. Who’s up?

ROSS: I’ve got a fing but it’s not weally insanely great, uh-waha-haha. (Makes face to imaginary camera.) What you got, Alicia?

KEYS (singing loudly): NEW YORK, CONCRETE JUNGLE WHERE DREAMS ARE MADE OF, THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN’T DO… NOO YAWK, NOO YAWK… Oh the cellphone thing you mean…

(Headphones on, WILL.I.AM, nods along)

Nope, you can call it some new form of agile development but it’s not going to work.

Realistically, these guys are going to enliven a conference or two with a few jokes and songs and maybe an autograph for the IT manager’s kids. Nothing wrong with that, but let’s call it what it is, celebrity endorsement, and leave the rest of the nonsense where it belongs, in the Green Room. 

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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