Category Archives: future

A Crypto World?

I like people who think big. Not because they are always right, or even most of the time right. But because big ideas lead to big discussions and big discussions lead to faster idea generation. That leads to more innovation.

At the end of the day, we may not realize the big ideas that are put into the public marketplace of ideas, but we are better off because big ideas are proposed.

And I can think of no bigger idea for our era than the transition from a capital based society to a knowledge-based society. We are living in a capital based society. Efficient use of capital is what gives us our consumer based lifestyles. It is what we understand as normal.  And it is changing into something else. That something else is the advent of knowledge replacing capital as the scarce resource that we all chase after.

The key to understanding this is to see knowledge less as a thing that one either has or does not have and more as the outcome of conversations that add value. Conversations that add value generate knowledge. As such, knowledge is not a fixed resource, but it is bounded by our capacity to generate value-adding conversations.

So how do we build that capacity?

At present, we use only a tiny fraction of that capacity. Why? Because we spend most of our time doing other things that we think are important — like chasing after money. As we use more of this capacity, we see the rate of knowledge generation increase. And it can increase to levels that were thought to be impossible in the not too distant past. Much like folks who rode horses could not imagine a car that routinely traveled at 60mph over highways, we find it difficult to imagine a world where vastly complex problems are solved overnight.

To make this happen, we will produce changes in our institutions that free up our value adding conversational capacity. And one of those institutions is how we work. Al Wenger wrote yesterday about some new thinking about how to finance this new type of less confining work using cryptocurrencies.

Go for it!

Gambling and Life

Edward O., Thorp knows a lot about math. You would expect that from a math professor.

Image result for Edward thorp

You might not expect that he would use his knowledge of math to develop systems for gambling. He did that too and he became famous for it. His autobiography is “A Man for all Markets”, and Fred Wilson endorses that book.

The book is about using math to better understand and quantify the risks of taking various actions. That might sound boring. But consider this

  • For most of our history as a species, we have doggedly tried to reduce risk through the pursuit of certainty. Our fascination with religion is jus tone piece of evidence relating to this pursuit.
  • The infatuation with certainty as an ultimate value led to the 20th-century infatuation with ideology and science and quests for the ultimate meaning of everything.
  • We are just starting to realize that humans are not capable of producing certainty on demand. We have to accept uncertainty and risk as part of our systems.

In other words, looking at things from a meta perspective, we are likely to see more and more attention paid to managing risks as part of the value creation process. Less insistence on certainty. More awareness of risk linked to reward.

So are “salaries” a social good? A “tenured positions”? A “job”? All provide a modicum of security – certainty. But compared to what? If this interests you, you might do well by checking out Edward Thorp’s autobiography as part of your summer reading.

Are You Optimistic about the Future?

Quite a few people are not. They are concerned about a host of big, big issues such as

  • climate change
  • automation taking jobs
  • political meltdown
  • global instability
  • artificial intelligence diminishing human freedom

I could go on, but you get the point. A lot of folks see big issues and conclude that mankind may be facing one or more massive crises in the 21st century.

So what about you? If you place yourself in the year 2217, was the 21st century great or miserable? Or both?

As with any question about the future, there is no right answer. We cannot know yet. But our attitudes about the future will shape it. If we are insecure, for example, we will do things that we believe make us more secure.

So what attitude do you have?

Fred Wilson is a big optimist. He thinks that human ingenuity will continue to make life better and will do so in ways that we cannot yet predict. His partner, Al Wenger, writes this

(Consider) the transition from the Agrarian Age to the Knowledge Age. In many countries we went from having 50 – 75% of the workforce in agriculture to 5% or even less. Now fast forward say 80-100 years into the Knowledge Age. I believe we will see the same trend for all workforce activity. Humans will be just as busy as before but much of that will be in the realm of voluntary, purpose driven activity. Conversely the workforce activity, as in selling labor for money, can become a small fraction (sub 20%) of all human activity.

At least some folks who were educated in the 18th century thought the 19th century was horrendous. They felt that the trend towards industry and away patrician-dominated agrarian society was a huge mistake. Henry Adams was in the group. You might also include Thomas Jefferson. Right or wrong, society went a different direction than they might have wanted.

Is Al Wenger right? Will we see a parallel trend from wage-based labour markets to knowledge based freelance markets? If so, are Fred and Al right that we have much to gain from that trend?

I think so. And that confidence enables me to think further about what types of things can we do now that will further enhance the prospects that our kids and their kids have for the future.

If you read Al’s piece, you see that he is interested in helping kids build better focus on how to get meaning from life – find a calling.  And he thinks we do that through better education. That is not a bad starting point. But we know by now that one does not find meaning in a vacuum (the way B.F. Skinner thought that we could). Social context (or call it culture) is critical. We learn how to find meaning when we make connections valuable.  And that is the great shortfall of capitalism — consumer based society does not optimize our social interactions.  I think that correcting this without diminishing our individual autonomy to make choices for ourselves is the great challenge of this century.

What do you think?

Teaching Adaptability

It is old news by now that our education systems are not what they should be.  Sir Ken Robinson sounded the alarm (in a polite way) back in 2006 in his TED talk.  Since then, his talk as been watched nearly 45 million times. Seth Godin offered essentially the same message in 2012 in his TEDx talk.

For over a decade, I have been waiting for someone, anyone, to defend our education systems as they are. No one has done this as far as I know.

The conclusion? Either we do not think that the education of our children is important, or so far, we have failed to address an important concern.

Is education important?  You could have made that argument with a straight face 200 years ago. But things have changed. More important, things are changing more rapidly than ever before. And young folks entering adulthood need a basic set of intellectual tools in order to cope.So, yes, education is important.

So we have failed. Is it because we do not know what to do? Robinson told us. Godin Told us. And the other day Greg Satell told us.  Moreover, I am confident that with a bit of research, I could uncover a massive pile of writing that all says the same thing. It is not because the solution is unknown. We know what to change and yet we are slow to change.

If this is true, it tells us something about ourselves. We think of ourselves as “advanced”. In fact, we have far to go before we can confidently make that claim. Perhaps folks looking back at these times — let’s say from 2117 — will smile at our foolishness.  Let’s hope so.

To Trust or Not to Trust: That is the Indigestion!

The mantra that I frequently hear is that overall levels of trust are declining in public institutions and even between people.I hear that technology is building invisible walls around individuals and that we are less connected despite the existence of amazing tools that are supposed to connect us.

Is it true? Like most generalities, it probably is and is not.  Too bad because we know a key thing about trust. Without it, modern society doesn’t function. We must trust people who we do not know or we will not be able to use the systems that make life happen.

So what drives trust? What are the core determinants that make it flourish? Conversely, what destroys it? As Bruce Schneier pointed out a while back, whatever they are, they are matters of perception, not just reality. If we perceive that something is safe, we trust it. That goes for situations and for people.

So it is not enough to make something safe. It is equally important to persuade people that it is safe in order to build trust. So what persuades?

A track record of trustworthiness helps. You might trust your huge barking Doberman not to bite you if he or she has never done so over a period of years. Strangers might feel less secure, whether they have reason to or not.

And here is the fun thing — we are starting to realize that reputation can be created in digital space. A digital reputation, based on the experiences of everyone who has dealt with you can confirm that you are trustworthy to people who have never met you. For example that is how Airbnb works.

This is something new. Not only does it provide an incentive for folks to do things online to build a digital reputation. It allows us to better value what others offer. As our networks grow in complexity, this will grow in importance.

Stay tuned!

More on Estonia’s Future

I posted the other day about this. Today I can offer a follow-up.

A big, big question that obsesses me is how can we maximize the opportunities for our kids here in Estonia to have a great future.

The first step in trying to address this type of question is to recognize that we cannot know for sure that that future will look like. For that reason is it is a strategic, rather than a planning sort of thing.

So while we cannot know for sure how this will turn out, we can ask this question — what does winning look like? And to me, it looks at least like this – kids know from an early age how they can “fit into” what is going on. They are aware of what opportunities are around and are given the best possible chance to make good decisions to realize what opportunities await. That is a major starting point. The next step is that when they make choices, they are supported by the best mentors around. In other words, we connect folks who are excelling today with folks who we hope will excel in the future.

That means connecting kids with the real world. Not just any old part of the real world, but those parts that offer them the best vision about where that real world is headed. We are taking a first step in that direction this May. It is a writing contest organized by young Kristiina Ude and her colleagues.  Here is their facebook page. Winners will be selected and prizes awarded by leading figures in Estonia. And then a nice party.

Keep in mind that this is not some sort of top-down, government funded initiative. All of the work done so far has been done by young folks trying to make a difference on a volunteer basis. And I think that they have a very cool vision. My role? I am donating matching funds for the prizes.

More on this as we go forward. Keep in mind. It is a writing contest. And it is a lot. lot more than that! It is a step towards maximizing our children’s chances for a great future.

Collaborate or Die Trying – Informed Solicitation

Over the last several years, it has become more apparent that it is possible to speed up or slow down the pace of innovation. We can speed things up, not so much by getting smarter, but by better connecting smart folks who have different types of expertise.  Matching talent and need, so to speak.

We know that this is the path forward. We don’t know, however, how to maximize this type of connectivity.  That requires facilitation and more precisely informed facilitation.

Fy informed facilitation, I mean facilitation that can build focus points that bring to bear the full range of intellectual power that is available beyond a single institution and applying that focus to generate better solutions faster.

Greg Satell tells this interesting story in the context of finding new battery technology. It is a must read.