Kevin Kelly makes some great points about a “post-productive economy”. This really scratches lots of itches for me. Even if you don’t agree with him, I think it’s a great attempt to get fish to see water: challenging some deep assumptions about what productivity is, and what choices people will make.
So the 3rd Industrial Revolution is not really computers and the internet, it is the networking of everything. And in that regime we are just at the beginning of the beginning. We have only begun to connect everything to everything and to make little network minds everywhere. It may take another 80 years for the full affect of this revolution to be revealed.
He argues that we easily misunderstand the impact of this by attempting to analyse it through the same lens we used for earlier revolutions. I found it inspiring.
The people who are perhaps the most screwed by open culture are the middle classes of intellectual and cultural creation. The freelance studio musician, the stringer selling reports to newspapers from warzones are both crucial contributors to culture. Each pays dues and devotes years to honing a craft. They used to live off the trickle down effects of the old system, and like the middle class at large, they are precious. They get nothing from the new system.
Harold suggests a reinvention is needed:
The trickle-down effects, that Lanier mentions, no longer share enough wealth for a viable middle class. We need to create our own network effects, but (this is important) it has to be within our own networks, not inside someone else’s walled garden.
Harold pulls some interesting threads together. For me, it meshes with the idea that we need to manage our own piece of the ecosystem more skilfully, and avoid the trap of trying to manage the whole system.
By the way, I always feel a bit uncomfortable with the whole middle-class thing. That’s a topic for another day.
Our organizations and how we function within and across them is shifting. There is value in being open with your ideas and an understanding your “onlyness” and the “onlyness” of those around you. Onlyness includes the skills, passions, and purpose that only you bring to the situation. There is still benefit to being individually unique, skilled, and motivated… But it is also important that others understand what you bring to the table. Saving an idea until you can reap individual credit may actually mean your idea has less value.
Eariler this week I went to the Cambridge Pitch & Mix. There was a great mix of people and lots of ideas stuck in my mind.
One in particular was a comment made that the tech scene in Cambridge suffered because there were, to admit the cliché, too many chiefs and not enough indians. I think this is something that applies in a lot of other places too. Go to any meeting and there are a lot of people who think they know how things should be run, if only people would follow their plan.
I guess that technology provides us all with so much data and information, that it encourages us to think we can see a whole picture, and delude us into thinking that everyone else should agree with us, or, horror, just doesn’t get it. It seems to me that a lot of posts get written setting out strategies for organisations to follow in social media. But these rest on some interesting assumptions about strategies somehow being centrally mandated… assumptions that I think are increasingly tenuous if you really believe in networks.
Writing for chiefs is high status, but maybe the real skill in a network is having sufficient humility to manage our own small piece of the puzzle, in all its paradox and complexity, rather than idealising how organisations actually work?
Tactics for indians, rather than strategy for chiefs. Or something like that.
Kevin Carey has a fascinating article looking at the growing number of startups challenging conventional universities with cheap online services. I’ve felt for a long time that education would eventually suffer the kind of disruptive change that has hit the music and publishing industries. Carey takes a close and not totally wide-eyed look at some of the entrepreneurial activity in the education field.
Among the nuggets that caught my eye was his reference to two businesses that allow students to trade lecture notes. Some unis have actually tried cease-and-desist letters against them, claiming that student notes remain the intellectual property of the lecturer. Which sounds pretty desperate to me.
At the centre of the argument is scale. The big league American universities have responded to a surge in demand… by not offering any more places at all. Carey argues
Indeed, scale is the oxygen feeding the combustible mix of money, ambition, and technology-driven transformation in the valley. Low margins, uncertain business models, limited marketing budgets—all of these limitations and more can be overcome by scale. And the rapid growth of mobile telecommunications technology means that the number of people in the world who are potential customers is quickly moving toward the number of people in the world.
Some institutions, like Stanford and MIT are adapting and developing open, online offerings. (Great new piece of jargon: MOOC – massively open online courses.) And then this happened:
In January, some of the Stanford professors broke off from the university and formed a new for-profit company called Udacity, designed to offer the same MOOCs, sans Stanford. In March, some of the other Stanford professors formed another company, Coursera, to offer courses from Princeton, Stanford, Michigan, and Penn, also online, also for free.
He also draws an engaging analogy about tech startups, drawn from rocket science (well, rocket engineering, anyway). With rockets, the biggest factor is the fuel; the more fuel you need in the rocket sitting on the ground, the more fuel you need to get it off the ground. Anything you can do to make it more fuel efficient has exponential benefits. Carey then argues
This, I realize, is pretty much what’s happening to the basic math undergirding the Silicon Valley economy and, with it, the likelihood of higher education encountering some kind of dramatic disruption at the hands of a Musk-like figure. As access to the Internet grows and the cost of everything technological moves toward zero, the amount of money needed to start a company that can grow to scale and just possibly change the world—that can go from 0 to 1—drops along the same kind of exponential scale. When does that cost become functionally indistinguishable from nothing? In the admittedly much less complicated business of photo sharing, it got there nine hours before I arrived at Founders Fund. That’s Instagram, the billion-dollar company that consisted of nothing more than a handful of ramen eaters (on the day it was purchased, Instagram had fewer than twenty employees) armed with ergonomic black chairs, wi-fi, and MacBook Airs.
He may be overstating the case when he offers this thought, but it’s certainly attention grabbing:
In the future, anyone with an idea will be able to build a rocket, aim it at the gigantic trillion-dollar market of education, and light the fuse.
He reckons this may take time, and that startups may not aim directly at mainstream universities but will work in the unregulated private sector. But…
At a certain point, probably before this decade is out, that parallel universe will reach a point of sophistication and credibility where the degrees—or whatever new word is invented to mean “evidence of your skills and knowledge”—it grants are taken seriously by employers. The online learning environments will be good enough, and access to broadband Internet wide enough, that you won’t need to be a math prodigy like Eren Bali to learn, get a credential, and attract the attention of global employers.
In One Man Against Wall St, Simon Johnson introduces us to Jeff Connaughton. He’s a Wall Street pro who now spends his time debunking the arguments for big-is-best megabanks. It makes a lot of sense to me. I think that finance is just as amenable to a much less monolithic, much more networked infrastructure.
Shinsato spotted this remarkable TED talk by Joe Justice on using agile processes to develop a legal (and amazing looking) car with exceptional fuel efficiency, in three months.
He highlights how slow improvements are in conventional cars because their manufacturing processes are so expensive to change. One hybrid increases fuel efficiency by just 2 mpg over six years. It can take ten years for an engineer to change a door design. Development teams run on 10 to 25 year development cycles.
Joe describes an agile development process that has led to a car with all sorts of features that make it cheap, and flexible. As he says, all the methods he uses are free.
As Shinsato says,
These new methods of building stuff better, faster, and with more fun are coming and changing everything, not just the lives of some programmers. This video will give you a taste of how Joe did it – and why it’s profound – and how he’s also working to bring these techniques for social change.
As we see the massive failings of our big institutions to respond to our needs with integrity, things like this point to at least the possibility of an alternative way of working.
Near the end, Rosen calls for “savage clarity” in journalism. Harold picks up on that phrase and I like it too. What appeals to me is that it’s paradoxical. People like their clarity hygienic and sharp edged, but when you’re dealing with human beings in all our complexity, that’s really a pipe dream. Savage – to me – suggests two correctives to this: first, it implies something a bit rough at the edges, and second it includes some passion. It gets away from the clinical. It certainly avoids the journalistic fallacy of the voice from nowhere.
Doug Rushkoff believes central currencies, and big corporations, were invented to repress peer-to-peer production. And their time is now up.
It’s not the 99% who need to retrain themselves in order to get jobs. It’s the 1% who need to face the fact that their 600-year workaround of the value creation has reached the very endpoint of diminishing returns. They need to consider whether they might actually make more money at this stage of the game by helping people create value instead of actively preventing it.
Harold Jarche has written a good, succinct post on the shift managers have to make from hierarchy to network. It makes lots of sense to me, and it’s a challenge I’m seeing lots of organisations wrestle with. Harold challenges the “learning delivery” model, which is something I often run up against. It’s quite a culture shift and it’s happening to organisations whether they like it or not.