The evolution of technology has brought us “Big Data,” with its emphasis on analytics and data visualization, and changing how companies think about technology.
Remember the VP of electricity? Yeah, me either. The point is that technology results in many macro- and micro-level changes, from the “end of average" to new conceptions of how the firm manages roles at the corporate center. It’s easy to foresee a future where there is an executive whose sole purpose is managing and analyzing the company’s information flows, and where teams and divisions are oriented around activities instead of functions.
Pic: Cornell University computing icon Richard Lesser at CPC in Rand Hall.
Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos said the online retailer is developing pilotless flying vehicles that can deliver packages within a half hour of an order.
Same-day delivery services aren’t intended to be profit-making, but rather habit-forming and brand-strengthening, but this news strikes me as a pure brand play/ploy — like D.C.-based iStrategy Labs’ push-button pizza-ordering system (which they readily admit to). After all, drone burrito delivery has already been shot down (so to speak) by the FAA.
Pic: my friend Dan Merwin, who designs drone tech for photography, took this one with his unmanned camera.
Using a school-in-a-box model, for-profit schools in Sub-Saharan Africa have found a way to give primary school kids a quality education for roughly $5 a month.
Grameen Bank taught us that the so-called “unbankable” can benefit from micro-lending and large-scale organizations can even make money in that space. Bridge International Academies may very well demonstrate how technology and scale can overcome severe education gaps. Publishing, tech, and education services companies should take note.
Pic: Rural Zambia
~ Corey (Liv Tyler/Empire Records).
After almost 20 years, Liv Tyler is channeling her inner Corey to help us avoid soliciting this response from our co-workers: “Well, Sinead O’Rebellion. Shock me, shock me, shock me with that deviant behavior.”
Excerpted tips from her new book Modern Manners: Tools to Take You To The Top.
“…maintain eye contact while shaking hands and greeting someone.”
“…show respect for the invisible personal space of others; keep your body at a minimum of about 18 inches (1½ feet) between you and the other person.”
“…let the person finish talking before you chime in.”
“…answer the phone with confidence and a smile, because that smile can be heard.”
“…return calls as soon as possible.”
“…use spell-check and proofread your message before sending.”
“…be aware that all feedback won’t be positive, because there are envious and unkind people who thrive on negativity.”
“…step aside before boarding a train to allow exiting passengers to depart. Rushing to get on board is not only rude but also can cause someone to fall.”
“…use earphones when listening to music.”
“…take small bites, and you’ll find it’s easier to join the conversation.”
“…keep the toast short and simple. Use the three B’s: Begin—Be Brief—Be Seated.”
“…tilt your head to the side—unless, of course, you’re flirting. That’s a no-no in the business arena.”
“…put your hands in your pockets. People may wonder what you’re hiding.”
“…panic if you’ve forgotten someone’s name. Say something kind, like, ‘I’m sorry, I’m a little forgetful at the moment; please remind me of your name.”
“…make jokes or wisecracks about a person’s name—it’s rude.”
“…offer the ‘fingerella’ handshake to anyone, regardless of age or gender. The giver of a fingerella handshake extends the right hand with the thumb down, an fingers curled, which invites the receiver to grab the fingertips. The receiver wants to shake your hand, not kiss it!”
“…use ALL CAPS—it’s like shouting.”
“…send confrontational or insulting e-mails, and don’t respond to any sent to you.”
“…hit the Reply All button if you want only the sender to receive your reply.”
“…blot lipstick on a cloth napkin or use it as a handkerchief.”
“…talk with your mouth full of food, or chew with your mouth open.”
“…text at the table.”
“…place any personal items on the table, including your cell phone.”
With anything new, taking time to notice, absorb, and reflect lets us be more thoughtful before we seek answers.
If you’re new to an organization, jot down every idea or question you have about how things are done, and then stick it in a drawer. Just whatever it is (e.g., why is this done this way? who owns that?)
It doesn’t matter whether it’s good or bad; you don’t even need to talk it out with anyone. Just write it down and put it away.
At the end of three or four weeks, look at your notes. Maybe you will understand certain things in a new way, or maybe some things still won’t make sense. At that point you should sit down with your manager to talk about these things. It may be that your perspective is what is needed to make a change, or it may be that there are other things at play that aren’t apparent.
Full disclosure: am wearing purple Birkenstocks while writing.
The great waves of global growth (e.g., trade, consumer credit, and expanded education), will subside and we will be left with economic stagnation and decline. Sounds Malthusian, right?
King says: "The end of the golden age cannot be explained by some technological reversal. From iPad apps to shale gas, technology continues to advance. The underlying reason for the stagnation is that a half-century of remarkable one-off developments in the industrialized world will not be repeated."
Yes, given current economic assumptions, we cannot replicate the growth of the last 50 years, in U.S. and elsewhere.
The biggest and most wrought of those assumptions is that of low-cost energy being the most important driver of growth. All one has to do to get a sense of its holy standing in economics and politics is watch Obama dance around the realities of fracking in his effort to cheerlead on natural gas drilling, ignoring its real costs to all of us.
We can create nothing but marginal growth if we continue to plumb the earth looking for lower and lower quality fuel sources. Tar sands excavation and fracking for shale gas mark a new level of desperation to drive growth. We are like alcoholics drinking the contents of our medicine cabinets.
The first step is admitting there’s a problem with our models, with our growth assumptions. And recalling this: “The future is not shaped by people who don’t really believe in the future.” — John Gardner.
We need to untether ourselves from gas to grow, adopting a new outlook re: renewables, and cast off capital market models that serve the whim of giant pools of money seeking higher and higher returns, and we need to do so in favor of new investment models and expectations around social as well as financial returns — it’s time for more Grameen banks and new models for reducing poverty.
What King’s essay appears to be saying is that global growth is over for everyone and, as such, capital resources will be reapportioned but not expanded significantly in the coming years and decades. With this in mind, we are entering an era of global conservation, and we will be saving what we would have spent, drilled, mined, and taxed.
Beyond our basic order of needs — food and shelter and such — there is the risk of inequality. If we can control for that, we can soften the landing from previous high-growth eras. So long as we continue to be creative in how we reduce poverty and inequality around the world, a slowdown won’t be apocalyptic. So, let’s plan for that and stop trying to squeeze out every last drop of growth having only short-term gains in mind.
Photo: Demonstration in Angelica, NY where the landfill is trying to fast-track a permit for accepting fracking waste from Pennsylvania.
I reread the Grapes of Wrath in the Great Recession, but only now am I seeing the parallels. Our country was on the move in the Depression, and that’s quickly becoming the new reality for many of us.
Construction workers have long been a mobile class — moving from boom town to boom town, many in RVs as their homes. And now, even academics are viewed as disposable (or readily replaceable, to be exact).
My sister recently bemoaned her mobile life in academia, calling herself a “migrant laborer”. She quickly refined the statement, saying that her life was much more comfortable than that of a fruit picker, but that the reality is academic jobs are treated more as short-term roles.
Indeed, research from Northwestern shows that non-tenure track professors are better teachers. Of course they are, the pressure to perform is much higher. Watch for schools using this as a cudgel against those seeking tenure track jobs.
We’re becoming a nation of freelancers. While that may sound, um, freeing to some people, negative implications abound.
If we’re all to be in business for ourselves: who insures us? Who covers for us when we are sick? What entities help us keep our transaction costs low? And, who enables our mobility.
This last point is where I’m fixated now.
Government is working on the first question via Obamacare (all politics aside). Our social networks and relationships will enable us to effectively cover our risks, for those of us lucky enough to be a part of strong professional communities. Nonprofits and professional groups will have to fill in for others, figuring out how to support those that don’t have strong networks to protect against free-rider problems such as professional under-bidding, which erodes our earning capacity (but that’s fodder for another post).
What truly has me worried (mostly because I’ve just moved twice) are the logistics of a mobile nation: 1) tax law prefers we be homeowners — even if it leaves individuals less mobile or even “under water”; 2) finance expects an enormous downpayment on a home when we may be least able to afford it (e.g., when we are moving for a new job); 3) renting has absolutely no financial benefit, and even leases can be expensive to leave, and renters are often vulnerable to horrible and abusive landlords (I’ve suffered through two psychos).
The rules of the game need to change in response to this new economic reality. Lawmakers need to figure out how to support those of us who move with frequency for work, and stop putting the tax emphasis on stasis, and finance executives need to figure out how to support shorter-term home ownership (if that is indeed better), with lower upfront costs that don’t carry much higher down-the-road risks, particularly if it’s indeed true that home ownership is truly beneficial to communities. Finally, companies that support us in our move need to be much better at helping us get from place to place (current moving and storage solutions are often very expensive and painful to manage — ahem, PODS).
There is a real shortage of support structures and businesses to support a more mobile nation of workers. Time to get on it!
Image: from HomeOwnerNut blog.
So-called journalistic objectivity has been a dealt a one-two punch from the press gallery.
One: “The political media’s aversion to doing anything that might be seen as taking sides — combined with its obsession with process — led them to actively obscure the truth in their coverage of the votes. If you did not already know what this was all about, reading the news would not help you understand.” — Froomkin for Al Jazeera.
Two: As Ross Douthat of NYTimes suggests, ”the press’ efforts to remain neutral/balanced while also acting as a medium for surfacing underrepresented voices and investigating the powerful actually undermines good coverage of real issues as the two aren’t entirely compatible.”
Much of our current narrative is filled with stories that increase polarization. In response, editors cling to so-called objectivity — even where it’s not warranted.
As the industry formerly known as the newspaper business evolves, we will see more non-traditional editorial models cropping up, and that’s a good thing for democracy and individual agency.
- Some journalists are re-thinking dualistic models of storytelling.
- Christian Science Monitor is crafting a strategy that involves “building communities around intention and intentionality.”
- Upworthy, a viral media site, is attracting attention for its dedication to social causes.
Image: The Birmingham News (today’s edition)
Scary stuff in the The Washington Post (perhaps scarier than the shutdown): ”The U.S. has fallen behind many of the other industrialized nations in the proportion of young people receiving advanced education at a time that such education is more important than ever.”
Business performance (and GDP) depends on higher levels of talent; and without oversimplifying it, talent depends on education.
Now may seem like a ripe environment for online education, unless you consider that most individuals partaking of online courses are upwardly mobile and highly enabled. Not those who lack access — like the 15% of U.S. adults who aren’t online, for example.
Tyler Cowan’s assessment is that ”average is over" and what we see emerging is a bi-modal distribution of wealth because of improved access to opportunities for the best educated, and insufficient opportunities begetting stagnant wages and fragile finances for the least-well educated in the U.S.
Frank Levy and Richard J. Murnane foresee job creation hinging on three types of work, two of which require an agile and educated mind: “solving unstructured problems [example: performing delicate surgery], working with new information [example: analyzing marketing data] and carrying out non-routine manual tasks [example: moving furniture].” And let’s be honest on the last example, we’d all prefer an educated mover (this is my go-to packing genius).
Business leaders should consider what a diminishing middle class means for their companies and how they can solve for the talent challenge within their workforce. The rest of us should try to enable higher levels of education by volunteering for organizations like StreetWise Partners, and all the other amazing nonprofits that help boost people’s work performance potential. We all benefit from a better educated population.
You could fill every moment of your life reading about how to best run your business; with hundreds of books and theories out there, covering everything from stall points to how some companies become great.
The problem with literature and so-called expert authors (ahem, Clayton Christensen, who’s never run a business), is that they are backwards-looking, and theoretical, and time is always on their side.
As with econometrics and weather, models help describe the universe with some nice clean error/disturbance terms built in that help make everything look predictable (or at least correlative), and researchers have years to compile vast amounts of data, but the reality is much more fast and messy, and models become less predictive of success or failure.
As my colleague recently reminded me: “One study — even a survey of surveys — doesn’t mean that the findings translate into a business tool. The standard of proof is lower in a business context because they often have to make 51-49 bets, whereas peer reviewed literature tends to be 95-5 bets.”
Photo: shale rocks at Canandaigua Lake.
In my recent century ride — which took me an embarrassing length of time — and the day-to-day of startup life, I’ve learned to appreciate the paradoxical truth that “blindness may operate more vigorously than prescience, and the short-sighted effect more than the far-seeing; that limitation and not comprehensiveness is needed for striking a blow.” — Thomas Hardy (Far from the Madding Crowd).
In other words, best not to consider the full distance or calculate the exact length you’ve gone, but take a fuzzy math view and keep pedaling.
Photo: bike in repose following its 100 mile workout.
Tech entrepreneurs occupy their time punching numbers and making connections. But we risk becoming automatons when we fail to consider how we are actually allocating our personal resources, like time, attention, and social capital.
So how do we get smart about personal resources? For starters, by avoiding non-worth-it networks and focusing instead on communities of support. Seek out those places (online and in real life) that actually help move our thinking and our businesses forward.
A quick litmus test shows that the best communities for entrepreneurs are open and engaging, while also being contained and self-serving.
Here’s are some criteria for assessment:
Meritocratic — All entrepreneurs need access to senior people with money and connections, but disregard Groucho’s advice about not being a member of a club that will have you. Look for places where ideas win out, and senior people are engaging, like Quora.
Reciprocal — The best groups enable reciprocity. The YEC, by the way, does a fabulous job of connecting questions with the people who can most help, while also helping promote its members outwardly.
Equivalent — The best communities (online and in real life) have figured out that network activation relies on creating a trusted space for people to share with peers who have complementary skills/expertise/interests. By creating a structure that allows for self-defined groups to connect based on experience levels, platforms help communities be more resilient and lasting. (Look to niche LinkedIn groups to engage, or proprietary groups managed by consulting firms or venture capital firms.)
Resilient — Finally, any good group, network, or platform should allow its members to break groups apart into new communities when they reach a certain size or scope/purview to ensure that the sense of individual responsibility to the group doesn’t decline as it evolves.
If you aren’t finding groups that meet these criteria, perhaps it’s time to start your own. I promise to check it out!
Image: Benedict Morgan’s “White Falling on Blue”
Read this: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet For Starting And Running A Business, by James Altucher
Out of his 100 Q/As, my two favorite are:
"16) What do you do when a customer rejects you in a B2B business?
Stay in touch once a month. Never be angry.
"92) I’m in business now for 6 years and my business doesn’t seem to be growing. It’s even slowing down. What should I do?
Come up with 10 ideas a day about new services your business can offer. Try to get a customer for each new service. I know one business in this situation that refuses to do this because their VCs are telling them to focus more. You’re going to go out of business otherwise.”
This v v smart blog applies the theories around innovation and growth stalls to the news business.
The news industry is ahead of many large companies in terms of building and engaging communities (read: marketing), but behind in terms of strategy and innovation. Curious to see what the future holds.
I anticipate one future model for the industry will encourage more individual agency and group advocacy, connecting people with ideas and even action items. And for this both individuals and organizations (read: advertisers) will pay.
“Price hikes on content — and then what?” By Steve Gray
"[The newspaper industry] exhibiting the classic behavior of all disrupted industries [with paywalls]. As the competition gets tougher, the disrupted business retreats up-market by focusing on its best customers…"
"In every disrupted industry, the business gets tougher and tougher as low-end competition increases. Revenues decline, boosting the pressure to raise prices and improve quality just to stay profitable at expected levels.
"If the revenues are used just to stay alive another year, it’s a dead-end street…
"What we need right now, while there’s still time, is a disciplined dual strategy: 1) Use part of the revenues to sustain the business, and 2) Use the rest of the revenues to develop the next-generation business models that will be needed to replace the declining revenues from the core business."