Category Archives: future

Facilitation is the New Plastics

Remember that great line from the film “The Graduate”?  If you forgot, I have embedded the scene below. Enjoy!

The core idea from that scene is that connecting to a single product or service (plastics) would guarantee a great future to an ambitious  young man. The irony, of course, is that the young man in question (Ben) was not ambitious in the traditional sense. He was ambitous in a totally new sense that the older generatoindid not understand.

But if you think about it, plastics have been an amazing growth industry. While this is not great for the environment, and perhaps not even for our health, plastics are everywhere. We live in a plastic world.

Which leads me to a question. Is there a new key niche that might define value added in our current period? I think there is. The word is facilitation. It is not a physical thing. But facilitation is the magic sauce for reducing “friction” in markets and accelerating innovation.

Need an example of how this affects markets? Consider the market growth of “urban warehouses”. These facilitate “just in time” “last mile” delivery.

Here is another example. IT used to be a tool that enabled managers to better track business performance. IT is now a facilitator to develop new business models.

Got it? Now enjoy Dustin Hoffman!

Books. Wenger on Harari

Yuval Harari has received quite a lot of attention after the 2014 English language publicantion of his book “Sapiens”.  The book is ana ttempt to use science to explain human history. It has a not very optimistic view of our future.

Humanity, Harari predicted, would engineer one more epochal event to rival the agricultural and scientific revolutions. Having evolved to exercise a measure of mastery over our environment, having begun to shape not only our planet, for better and worse, but also our biology, we stand, he argued, at the point of creating networked intelligences with a far greater capacity for reason than our own. The result was likely to be a lose-lose scenario for the species. Sapiens would disappear in the foreseeable future either because they had appropriated such mind-making powers as to become unrecognisable or because they had destroyed themselves through environmental catastrophe. Either way, judgment day was approaching.

harari has a sequel out called Homo Deus where he elaborates further on his core ideas aobut our future. Tim Adams reviews the book for _The Guardian at the above link.

Of course, this type of thing is not new. Humans seem to enjoy trashing ourselves as a species. We have done it for centuries, not least of all, with our alleged expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

Al Wenger also wrote a book about the future, but it is decidedly more optimistic. It is interesting, therefore, to read Al’s review of Harari’s Homo Deus. Spoiler – Al thinks it sucks.

When You Will Go Rooftop Solar

The trend seems to be long term – the cost of rooftop solar is going down and the cost of batteries to store the electicity that you generate is also going down. The conclusion: at some point, this means rooftop solar will be mainstream. We all will either have it or will be considering installing it. The speed at which this happens depends largely on how fast battery technology develops. But McKensy thinks it will happen fsater than many think Perhaps by 2030.

And what about utilities?

(The McKinsey report makes) clear is that for power utilities, unlike for so many other decrepit American institutions, simply clinging to the status quo is not an option. Rooftop solar can be staved off temporarily with fees and rate tweaks, but as batteries get cheaper, those strategies will stop working. More and customers are going to generate, store, and manage more and more of their own power.

Utilities will have to look elsewhere to make money: Where? That story is yet to play out. Stay tuned!

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.