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This is a Test

I recently had a meeting with a senior British Diplomat who had the unenviable task of explaining the latest twist in the Brexit saga to a group of Calgary business leaders active in the UK.

I think I got it. It’s crazy stuff. The end of Democracy? Probably not.  But certainly, a kick in the pants of the institutions that have held many of us together for 150 years or so.

Then it hit me. And of course, ­me being me – I had to blurt it out in our round table discussion – all without much of a critical thinking filter. But it turned out to be right on.

My ah-hah? 

This is all just a test.

Let me explain. As those of you who know from my writing in the book Tip of the Spear: Our Species and Technology at a Crossroads I believe that we are a true intersection brought about by exponential change meeting linear systems of capacity and reaction.

What if this seemingly existential threat to the EU – and potential similar threat to the US democracy and other nationalistic slides – are a test of our global communications capacity for answering the REALLY hard challenges that are coming.

I argued to the assembled group that Brexit, US Nationalism and the like are incredibly challenging and complex issues, but they pale in comparison to what’s at stake when we start talking about the genies of technology that are being let out of the bottle at an exponential pace.

This newly built global collaborate mechanism called the Internet and Social Media is shining a spotlight on the incredible fractiousness that exists in our tribes that make up our collective species. Social media is like shining a bright flashlight on all of the human condition at the same time. The worst and loudest of the species come crawling out. 

But what if this messy, shouting, and fractious time is a test? A test of our planet learning how to talk. Learning how to collaborate. Learning how to disagree without creating war and conflict. Like the proverbial newly born baby fawn taking its first uncertain, wobbly but – as nature is cruel – life-essential steps.

But in any test, we learn. If you believe that we can and will get better, then I would much rather have us begin the hard work NOW at getting this stuff fixed – using a combination of freedom and regulation that calls on all of us to understand that we must figure it out.

Because if you think Brexit is hard, think of the conversation we need to start having along these lines:

  • The Future and Ethics of Artificial Intelligence
  • The Future and direction of Capitalism and systemic economic inequality
  • Climate Change mass migration
  • The Future of work and income in a world of displacement and automation
  • The Future of education and skills for a set of unknown / unkowns
  • Democracy 2.0

If the test case is the bitter divides of Brexit and Democratic election, I’ll take it.  Because my glass half full side says that we are going to figure out a better way to talk. Our better nature will pave a better road and take best advantage of this tool of the Gods. 

And when we do, we can collect the brilliance found in majority of the species and not the extreme ends of the spectrum to guide and lead us to answer the true existential challenges of our lifetime.

To my poor British diplomat who had to witness a Gibson penny-drop moment, my apologies.  But it may have put the Brexit challenge in perspective of the critical conversations that really need to start happening.

Let’s pass this test, shall we?

A Referendum on Vision

I have been listening to the discussion on the Calgary 2026 Olympic bid for the past few months with some concern. As someone who has participated in the grassroots discussion on the future of our city along with hundreds of others, I am struck by the struggle we seem to be having as a city as we try to move the discussion forward.

Now, before we go off on a pro/con rant on the Olympics, this is not about this project specifically.

What the Olympic discussion is really reflective of is our capacity and ability to make generational, game-changing decisions as a community. Make no mistake: since the 21st-century “bus” missed the stop in Alberta as we were all enjoying $120 oil, the only way to get back in the game – let alone change the game – is to be making really big, bold decisions. And quickly.

This is a referendum on that change process. The projects we need to do are audacious, possibly frightening to some and will – like the Olympics – be divisive and not unanimous. But they are essential. We need to announce to the world that Calgary is able to confront its future with a new regenerative spirit that weaves in a new social contract of openness, pay it forward and diversity; that our community of all stripes is able to have difficult discussions and is able to frame the debates recognizing that in order to raise the tide, we have to lean in together. Not in unanimity and harmony but with respect and urgency.

So, think of the Olympic bid as a referendum on our ability as a city to debate with urgency, to be able to rationally recognize the trade-offs inherent in boldness, and to understand facts through a lens of critical thinking and informed discussion making.

Whatever we decide as a community for 2026, I believe if it is done through these lenses we will be able to say, “ok team, what’s next on the list?” and move on – regardless if the decision went your way or not. Because all of us need to get onboard a new bus and to stop wasting time and energy calling names and being beholden to the narrowing view of a social media timeline.

Because this is just the first of many, team Calgary! Wait until we get to the HyperLoop discussion!

Public / Private Sector: Let’s Talk!

I had the true pleasure of speaking this week at the “Policy Matters” conference in Edmonton. Held every two years for leaders in the Government of Alberta, it brings together all of the policymakers under a central theme to think, learn, collaborate and network. This year’s theme was on Disruption and Policy Innovation. As the closing Keynote speaker, I used the opportunity to share some themes from my book Tip of the Spear. I connected the things that are important and of concern to me about the future with the initiatives and vision of public policy leadership.

But about three-quarters of the way through my prepared talk, I went off script. I decided to take a risk; “Play some Jazz” as I like to say.

Now, this is always fun when you are Miles Davis or Malcolm Gladwell, and it always sounds cool in theory. It is, however, always a risky move in front of 1,200 people! But I think I got it out ok and I wanted to push out the idea further in writing to be sure I hadn’t lost my mind.

Here’s what I said – in real time.

I said that I think it’s time that my colleagues and partners in the private sector/ innovation world stop beating up the folks in the bureaucracy of government.

I did.

Now wait! Before you jump on me and ‘troll’ the well-worn arguments of the big, bad, slow and inefficient government, I did this by coming up with the first two lines of what I think might be a new “shared” public/private sector Social Contract:

Public/Private Social Contract

  • The private sector needs to explicitly recognize that in the world of “Tip of the Spear” issues, our public sector is on the absolute front line of supporting, regulating and understanding issues.  Disruption is coming at them hard, wrapped in the virtually impossible calculus of technology speed, complexity and unknowns. These coming changes – as I argue in the book – are multiple existential crises that will blow us up or just as likely make the world a much, much better place. Public policy makers CANNOT do this alone. They need our help and they need for us to stop yelling at them.
  • In return, the public sector leadership at all levels HAS to commit to fixing the machine. They need to create “Innovation of Ways” that match the intensity, velocity, collaboration and ruthlessness of the private sector entrepreneurial/innovation ecosystem. They need to match our “Innovation of Things” machine that cranks out new technologies that help us do stuff faster, better and cheaper. This “Innovation of Ways” approach needs to learn how to incubates and accelerate policy in a world of “Lean”, MVP, risk and execution.

Now I get that nuclear reactor safety is not an “MVP/Lean” kinda’ thing. But so much of what is coming at us needs a policy response that is rapid, flexible, iterative and based on principles of design thinking – and most doesn’t look anything like nuclear safety. And I also understand that the public sector does reach out to experts in the private sector all the time. But too often it is in the form of “Thanks for the input, we’ll take it from here…”. That simply doesn’t work anymore. In the software engineering terms, that is a bad version of the waterfall method of development in a very Agile world. We need to be better.

Because of this, I called out to the assembled at the conference that we collectively need work smarter and better together. And quickly. The Rainforest Movement is teaching us that collective Trust is the precursor to innovation acceleration and velocity. Let’s start with a new social contract. Let’s start by stopping the yelling and starting to commit to fixing the policy machine.

What are your thoughts, my private and public sector friends? Can we build a new commitment – regardless of our political stripes – work together to “10x” the way we teach, regulate, inform and keep safe our businesses, families and communities?

Let’s create the PolicyX Challenge that encourages and rewards game-changing policy.

In the end, if we don’t, we will continue the blame game that has plagued public/private sector interaction for a generation. The Tip of the Spear calls out that exponential changes caused by new technology are “shots across the bow of our indifference”. Instead, let’s fix this.

Who’s in?

Trust & The New Social Contract

Compassion is the radicalism of our time, – the Dalai Lama

As we look into the deep challenges of the day including inequalities of wealth and opportunity distribution caused by technology, and the disappearance of trust with all institutions –  we can be easily overwhelmed. These are really big problems. More alarming is that we are shortly bringing 3 – 4 billion new humans into this messy online, connected universe for the first time.

In thinking about this, two thoughts occur to me – on opposite sides of the spectrum.

The first comes from the excellent writings of Yuval Noah Harari in his book, “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow”.  As the author looks into the fundamental questions of our current time and the future of humanity, he digs deeply into the very essence of what makes the human species so successful on this planet.

He notes,

Over … 20,00 years human-kind moved from hunting mammoth with stone-tipped spears to exploring the solar system with spaceships not thanks to the evolution of more dextrous hands or bigger brains…Instead, the crucial factor in our conquest of the world was our ability to connect many humans to one another. Humans nowadays completely dominate the planet not because the individual human is far smarter or more nimble-fingered than the individual chimp but because Home Sapiens is the only species on Earth capable of co-operating flexible in large numbers…

History provides ample evidence of the crucial importance of large-scale co-operation.

Other writers have said as much.  While honey bees and massive, multi-million ant colonies all appear to co-operate in large numbers, Harari argues that they do so “inflexibly” – according to some ancient hard-wired evolutionary constructs.

Humans are unique because of their ability to flexibly connect. Our wiring up of the planet is – with this logic – precisely predictable.  If our own human evolutionary path enabled us to dominate the planet thus far, the Internet was entirely obvious.  Our “exploration” of the planet – while arguably for exploitation and power – was really just about communication and collaboration.

The first question then is, “Do we need to worry about it?  Will our new collective infrastructure simply evolve or does it need guidance and direction?”

I care about this because if the answer is to allow the human species to evolve “naturally”, my worry is that we are on a trajectory that will see our advancing technologies, inequalities causing further global divides. In other words, we might blow ourselves up before we can “evolve” enough.  That topic is the focus of my recently released book “Tip of the Spear: Our Species and Technology at a Crossroads” Here:

The second observation – and preoccupying my current work – is at the opposite end of communication scale: One to one.

We have spent the better part of the past two years studying and implementing a new innovation culture in our part of the world based on a book called the Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley.  The Rainforest spends a significant amount of time on the nature of Culture and Trust.  Extensive research from global innovation ecosystems told the original authors that individuals in an innovation ecosystem act in ways that traditional economists looking at complex economic systems failed to adequately pick up. They discovered that the “actors” in an innovation ecosystem do not behave in typical ways.  Most economic models think about individuals as behaving rationally to maximize individual return on investment.  Whereas the successful Innovation Rainforest is populated by individuals who frequently exhibit activities and behaviours that maximize return on involvement. A new type of “ROI”

As the authors note,

“Almost anyone in a Rainforest who has started a company has witnessed this New ROI firsthand.  It is the successful entrepreneur who provides you with an hour of free advice. It is the advisor who drafts up a three-page strategic plan for you, completely on his own initiative and with no expectations. It is the engineer who starts working on your software project without knowing what her actual pay is going to be.”

This behaviour is a critical aspect of what makes innovation ecosystems thrive and is a huge clue as to how we need to reshape our one-on-one behaviors in this new world. One of the most important tools the authors discuss is the concept of the Social Contract.  Again from the book,

Whereas social contracts in our ordinary lives are implied and invisible, we seek to make Social Contracts for the Rainforest manifest and visible. These contracts are physical documents that attempt to manifest the Rules of the Rainforest, as applied to local circumstances. They are like written constitutions for innovation ecosystems: they provide maps for people to navigate the informal rules of their new communities. As in cognitive behavioral therapy, Social Contracts work by making people more self-aware and conscious of their choices for action.

In Alberta, we created our own version of the Social Contract and it read as follows:

Social Contract

Why does this matter? Simply stated, because it fundamentally changes behaviours of individualsOne-on-one – the sum of which makes up our complex world.

If you read the Social Contract carefully you will see an explicit set of behaviours that CATEGORICALLY is in opposition to the zero-sum game of hardcore, winner-take-all, market-only capitalism.

But most importantly, it makes explicit a set of commitments to which signatories are bound.  It is as though we are able to create a constitution for each of us on how we wish to behave and the behaviour of all actors in the ecosystem.

Coming back to Harari, if we are collectively successful as a species because we have found the secret sauce of flexible collaboration, my experience in Alberta has given me a clue as to the new operating guide for this connected planet system.  Clearly, we need to create a culture of innovation if we are going to survive, but it begins with the culture of trust.

If I imagined a New Social Contract guiding, for example, the challenges of our new social media globally connected system, how might that look? Imagine if we could wipe the slate clean.  What if our exponential technologies could help us implement a global social contract that made explicit what we are trying to accomplish? What if this started not as a global collective but as a simple agreement between two people agreeing on how to behave.  How to act. Simple human behaviours, coded and amplified. What would this new social contract look like? Try this:

  • Converse online as though your reader was looking you directly in the eye.
  • Use language and words that begin with respect in mind
  • Say two positives before you say one negative
  • If you don’t understand the issue, don’t comment. Two ears, one mouth.
  • Ruthlessly create, curate and promote sources of truth
  • Learn to identify what truth is.
  • Truth is truth; Facts are Facts; Opinions are just that. But if they are not respectfully articulated call that out.
  • Well-reasoned, fact-based, alternative world views are a new gold standard and the true currency of trust.

Now, I know many of you are saying how can you engineer this change globally and aren’t there simply too many negative people in the world who overwhelm this?

Perhaps, but imagine if our newest technologies and intelligence could help encode the social network “social contract” into existing (or new) applications, or develop new user interfaces that help us to encourage debate, discourse, disagreement within the constructs of individual social contracts.

Don and Alex Tapscott noted in their May 2016 book, “The Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business, and the World”, the promise of the Blockchain is well beyond finance. It is about creating irrevocable, mobile, global trust in anything of value. What happens if that “value” was a social contract between two people or among millions?

Hey Facebook, here’s a thought: The promise of a new digitally consumable social contract might, for example, change the very nature of signing up new friends. The acceptance of a friend becomes the acceptance of an explicit Social Contract between two people, a group of people etc. Instead of some complex and opaque “terms of use agreement” with Facebook, perhaps they should create a simple, human understandable, digitally accessible social contract that simply asks two ‘friends’ if they wish to adhere to it.  Think of what that might do to organizational trust?

Surely our new tools of Blockchain ledgers, machine learning, language processing, artificial intelligence, neural networks, user interfaces etc could be put to use to build such a system? My optimistic side says I am sure it is being built as we enter this challenging world of 2018 at the dawn of a low-trust, Post-Fact world.

Stay tuned. Live Trust.

Get the book at jimagibson.com (and tell your friends!)

Hey America…

… just wanted to let you in on a conversation I had this morning. It was with a very successful, Cambridge University educated Asian gentleman whom I will call Shahal. We met virtually through a mutual friend. Prior to Skyping with him, I did – as is par for the course in my world – the customary digital due diligence. He certainly passed the “sniff” test and perhaps he did the same with me and we arranged a call.

It was pretty evident on the call that not only did he pass the “sniff” test he was in the top-tier of venture creation, acceleration, capital and was an articulate and successful businessman from one of the largest cities in the developing world but in reality a citizen of and participant in the world’s innovation community.

He was calling to see if Canada generally and Calgary specifically was a place he wanted to create his newest venture and accelerator. He was involved at the leading-edge of enterprise software, Internet of things and host of other innovations and technologies which we discussed at length. He knew his stuff.

In short, he and his firm would be an economic development agency’s dream. In fact, our excellent and forward-looking Economic Development agency, Calgary Economic Development, was leading the initiative and had passed him to me because he wanted a ‘feet on the street’ view of the entrepreneurial, technology and business landscapes. He wanted to kick the tires a bit.

Our conversation blew my mind.

The net of it was that when the inevitable time came to discuss the “issues” south of the border he made his position abundantly clear. He said, “if we were having this conversation a year ago, it would have been a short one. I would have made the decision to move either to the Valley, New York, Boston, or London.  Canada – with respect – would barely have made my radar”.

Today the game was completely different. His globally mobile workforce and capital sought only one thing: A place of tolerance and respect for new people and new ideas.

The US was no longer that place in his mind, his partner’s mind, his wife’s mind and more importantly his teenage children’s minds. His children, he said, always dreamed of the US as the “end game” for success. Like the proverbial dream of many Indian and Asian children in decades’ past, the US stood for the best of what we could be.

In a blunt and shockingly rapid manner, that dream is gone for the smartest and most mobile capital and workforces in the world.

So, America my friend and neighbour, your policies of intolerance, division and nationalism will begin to hit you hard and fast. The world – especially the massive and rapidly growing nations of Asia and Africa – will not spend its new-found economic chips at your table.

They are beginning their new game at the birth of an innovation epoch that will transform the world. And while you are the current holder of the majority of global economic cards, you will soon find that there are fewer and fewer players at your table.

I reminded Shahal that our winters were cold, that our energy-centric economy was struggling to diversify, our taxation is high and our regulation is not to be sneezed at. But our social contract was formed on diversity, pay-it-forward, community building thinking and we will lead the way in shaping how a global workforce will collaborate to change the world.

It was a good call, America.

As I clicked off the Skype call, my thoughts turned to how many more ‘Shahals’ were out there in this world – and more importantly – who were they calling.

America, you are starting to be un-friended.  Just saying.

A New Social Contract

A funny thing happened on the way to 2017.

2016.

Clearly, 2016 is in the pole position for the worst year ever.  From dying legends to dying democracies to the rise of fear-based populism and individual distrust.

But with my glass half full, I saw something else emerge. Like the proverbial weed in the rainforest, in the last half of the year, I saw something emerge that gives my old-ish bones hope.

One of the smartest and most creative people I know – Laura Haynes, the indomitable Chair of Appetite UK, called it the great “re-boot”.

I call it the new social contract.

Without going all social engineering on you (because there are some ‘nasty’ uses of this term in history), it simply is making explicit the way we want to treat and be treated by other human beings. Pushing all the noise away, the relationships that govern two people are the atomic structures of the compounds that make families, communities, countries and societies work.

The new social contract talks about things like giving trust before demanding it. It is grounded in a pay-it-forward thinking that plants acorns instead of cutting down trees; it speaks to diversity as the DNA of all things we do.

In short, in 2017 we need to re-build a culture of trust. And it starts with a new social contract. Look for it in a relationship, rainforest or company near you.  And it is the last part of Tip of the Spear.

Mark my words.

Better Purpose

Purpose. It is a simple, bold and powerful word. It directs us, anchors us and provides a North Star when the world turns unfamiliar. For our clients, it says everything their customers and employees need to know what they stand for.

Purpose is driven by human characteristics such as empathy, values, logic, and emotions. It is long-term and far-reaching. We live, however, in a very disruptive and turbulent world, don’t we? Our centres of gravity are being hit by the reach, speed and diversity, and velocity of technological change.

As I note in my forthcoming book, Tip of the Spear:

“The use of the technologies we have invented are now poised on a blade’s edge. Either we learn to level the global playing field in areas such as Governance, Finance, and Education, or we use these extraordinary technologies to create further concentrations of wealth and increased inequality. Either we use our newly connected planet to have real conversations or we let it devolve into a rabble at the gate”.

This is why purpose is so important. The keel of ‘purpose’ is now being driven by sails fed by winds of disruption.

Our discussions with clients and partners around the world have helped us recognise that there is growing tension between the need for authenticity and purpose-centred brand direction, and the complex needs of an always-on digital clientele and customer channels. There was a growing understanding in the firm that we had the opportunity to shape a much more complete message that was the sum of these two very different worlds.

As we stepped back from these conversations, our collective team developed a digital manifesto that looked at the epicenter of this amazing intersection of heart and head; art and engineering; human and machines. It clearly articulates what we know to be certain and what we know will help shape our clients’ purpose in the face of digital disruption.

As we expand this vision into our everyday work with our clients, we provide three important messages to think about;

Firstly, fully understand the scope and speed of change that is coming; but remember to deepen the keel through a fuller understanding and articulation of your purpose;

Secondly, don’t be complacent and think that the technology ‘genies’ are going back in the bottle; they never have in history and the scope and speed will surely not allow it to happen now; don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “things have always changed, haven’t they?”

Finally, especially for our corporate clients, see the coming changes as incredible new opportunities – likely an imperative – to think exponentially, act differently and become leaders of new social movements that are demanded in this complex time.

Digital disruption “on purpose” means combing the best of what makes us human with the power and reach of a new era of technology and global connections.

And that is exciting

#BetterPurpose

 

Tip of the Spear: Part 4 – A Shot Across the Bow

This final blog post before the book Tip of the Spear is finished, stems from my worries about some of the global scenarios that are starting to play out right before our eyes.

As anyone who knows me will attest, my glass is usually three-quarters full.  So to go dark for me is hard and not the norm.

In this section of the book, however, I felt it was extremely important to remind my readers just how dangerous the upcoming period of time could be – and I am not talking about the next decade or five years.  I am talking about 2016 to 2017.  Right now. This minute.

So, given the US elections and the Brexit realities, I thought I might take a drive through worst case scenario hell and remind ourselves that the world is – as many of our media pundits remind us – a very dangerous place.

Warning:  The following gets depressing really fast.

There are three stages to this dangerous journey.  The first is a phenomenon that is all too real and immediate to most of us who spend any time online:  The Death of Discourse.

Stage 1:  The Death of Discourse

It really has snuck up on us hasn’t it?  While unruly behavior is not dependent on whether the conversation is online or offline (after all humankind is a tribal and warring species), the conversation tone has changed dramatically in recent years.  The causes are  multiple and inter-connected.

Individuals in our human collective are suffering from a full decade or more of digital-media inspired A.D.D. Many of us have forgotten how to listen and are slowly forgetting how to critically think. We fight each other for face time, space time and air time. Worse, we allow the tools to amplify the bullies who use our gloriously connected digital medium to lower discourse to unprecedented depths of biliousness and broadcast the basest traits of our species.

In a typical encounter it doesn’t start out that way, does it?  Watching the reaction to the devastating fires in Fort McMurray here in the province of Alberta in 2015 (as well as other traumatic and very public events) what occurs to anyone with a modicum of humanity is that what ALWAYS rises to the top – at least initially – is the extraordinary compassion for our fellow man/woman/child.  “How can I help NOW in the basics of human needs – food, shelter, warmth?”

What then happens – inevitably and most unfortunately – is that the discourse gets hijacked. When the conversation moves online – as it always does – commentary and passive aggressive trolling pushes the discussion off the rails. Base-level human behaviours inevitably show up and things devolve astonishingly quickly. What begins as a collective response to human need – spreading exponentially and positively – became a vitriol of the trolls.

In the case of Fort McMurray, online newspaper and Facebook discussion threads saw the deniers of climate change met head-on by the shouts of “karma” by the radical environmentalists.  The poor souls who happen to be in Fort McMurray in the spring of 2016 simply needed shelter, food and water.

In the face of this, the best of our humanness disappears, “I am out of here…” the best respond.   Worse, it puts another shadow on our belief and faith in the collective human experience. We start to back away from the very tools that give us access to the best and the brightest.

The reasons for this are complex but the cause and effect chain is fairly obvious: When large groups of humans remain far down the classic Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for a long time – especially when observing – often in real time – a small but entitled group who are not –  they get grumpy. It takes time, but like all things exponential, it’s very, very slow at first and then boom!

And here’s the killer:  Combining this societal bitterness with the cold, passive aggressiveness of faceless and consequence-free technology! You don’t get punched in the face for calling someone a ______ in an online comment section – (fill-in the blank with a word or phrase never spoken out loud in public except by a drunk 19-year-old college boy). And that is the online bully, troll and thug.

And they are everywhere.

Here’s a scarier thought:  What will happen when the next 2 billion come online?  Will they witness the utter mess of discourse and run away or will they simple ignore and revel in their new found freedom of expression? I wonder and worry about this.

While the death of discourse is really nasty and depressing and it makes us want to stop reading crap online because we’d rather talk to our neighbours civilly over a pint (or punch them in the nose when you find out their online pseudonyms), it may frighten away the next generation of net users. But this is not the real problem.

Not by a long shot.

Welcome to Stage 2:  The Geopolitical Slide

History shows us that the human species requires a good kick in the pants every once in a while.  Or more accurately gives itself one. The past century saw three major wars. We solved the second one by dropping two atomic bombs that changed our view of technology, and war forever.  Further back as a species it appears we needed to beat the crap out of each other – religiously, militarily, ideologically every so often. We evolve our technology and advance our species but our true nature hasn’t changed very much.

We say, “Never again” – both to the bombs and to the gas chambers that created the conditions of one terrible war. What caused it?  Historians will disagree on all of the exact reasons but one of the most often cited explanation is the territorial and ideological expansions of nations lead by tyrannical leaders – and I am including the US in that category as it sought to exterminate the scourge of communism through the use of power and military in Vietnam and South East Asia.

Those of us born after 1970 have not had a world war to contend with in the traditional sense.  Except 9/11 changed everything, even the very nature of warfare, combat and the use of technology to deliver weapons of war – munitions as well as mass ideological influence on those most susceptible.  The very same conditions that spawned ISIS/Al-Qaeda have in turn spawned an ignorant, inward looking, nationalism in the West – closed thinking and lack of education make fertile ground for ideologues and propagandists.

This cycle repeats.

And if one starts to really look closely at 2016, we can see the potential for a daunting sequence of events that could lead to unthinkable aggression around the world or -worse – an escalation of the insidious terror from faceless and stateless terrorists.

But it starts innocently.  It always does.

Over the next 24 months:

  • Britain, fueled by anti-immigrant rhetoric and a population fed up with being ignored, votes to leave the EU.
  • The US, fueled by similar divides and a unique political system, elects Donald Trump, thereby solidifying in the world’s two oldest democracies a minimum of a decade of nationalistic, ‘post-fact’, angry democracies.
  • EU begins a natural slide into irrelevancy following Germany’s decision to exit in 2018; then Italy and the rest shortly thereafter.
  • The emboldened Alternative-right forces find their foothold in the rest of European democracies.
  • China, sensing the void and lack of coherent checks and balances in the West, begins to assert the vacuum left by a nationalistic US, pushes harder into Southeast Asia dramatically raising tensions with a trigger happy US leader.
  • Pakistan and India struggling always to get along, begin to bicker – diplomatically and commercially first, then militarily in the Kashmir region. India, sensing its increased stature and importance in the region (i.e. about to become the world’s largest country by population) – decides to test it.
  • North Korea fires another short range missile into disputed territory while satellites confirm the testing of a long-range missiles capable of reaching the US; Trump orders a naïve and jingoistic military attack on the region.
  • Russia begins running out of cash reserves as oil & natural gas prices continue to stay stubbornly low. Putin – still in power – presses aggressively into neighboring regions including China.
  • Meanwhile, the protectionist trade policies of the US set off the inevitable decline in global trade leading to job losses.
  • Meanwhile, the nascent middle class boom in the emerging economies incomes begins to spiral down, causing significant unrest– especially in Africa – as fragile democracies and more open government falls to the opportunistic dictators and strongmen fueled by the acceptance and tolerance of Trump and others.
  • The Alt-Right – emboldened by their new voice online begins to open up the cesspool of the Dark Net – creating the way for the emergence and production of new weapons of mass destruction with simple to use instructions and suppliers.
  • ISIS moves fully online now – a generation of dislocated, nation-less and disaffected Net users generates a mass cyber-attack on the global financial systems of the world causing chaos and crippling online commerce.
  • The Open Internet becomes a wasteland as brands, organizations and ultimately individuals retreat to private communication channels and the inevitable technology innovation decline begins.

Eek.

Not all of these will happen nor necessarily in the order presented but far too many can and will.  The best case is that we have a pissed off majority and a geopolitical tinder box fueled by a transparent and increasingly negative online world.  At worst, we have the beginning of our latest and likely last World War.

Just when we need the best of a collective, kind human response, the best have left the building and only squatters remaining.

But it gets worse:

Let’s add all of three of Gibson’s Laws of Disruption together and imagine the human species all woke up on the wrong side of the bed one day?  Remember what they were:

  1. The slope of the technology disruption curve is dramatically increasing.
  2. The technology “genie” never goes back in the bottle.
  3. Our linear systems of human organization are unprepared.

Stage 3:  Technology Fuels a Bitter Fire

Our venture fueled, exponential growth focused cabals have been spending several decades building technology for its own sake. Some technology is fueled by Open Source visions of greater good for all.

So Rule # 1 really begins to pick up speed – especially in non-information science such as biology and sensors and new devices.  We start using the combinations imagined by Diamandis and others and create unimaginable technologies and use our smart machines to create even smarter machines.  All of the Innovation of Things that we discussed earlier create all of the toys and more.

Now comes rule # 2 combined with rule # 3.  Because the technology genies are out and we never can put them back and because our traditional sources of checks and balances are completely incapable of managing, leading, legislating or frankly influencing, things get out of control.

Our broken capitalist system simply calls it ”progress” and blindly turns its eyes because frankly it’s not the nation state’s problem – that is, the “market” will look after it – remember we’ve just elected global ”less-is-more governments”!

We now put have poured jet fuel on a raging fire.  Because of the shrinking cost curve, we have technology-enabled a world that is now dominated by very pissed-off people with the same democratized access to the all of this technology. Individuals now try to understand and react to a world gone a little crazy – friends and colleagues start turning inwards and away from others – at the dinner table, the community hall, in our cities and around the world.

A pissed off majority, incapable of having sane, human conversation online or offline, meets a geopolitical tsunami and is fueled by technology that we are unable to control.

And guess what? We’re inviting two billion more people to this party ­–  many of whom have just risen to the earliest ranks of subsistence, more educated than before but still with a long way to go!  The slide back down their precarious and slippery slope is quick when things get ugly.

I told you this was going to be depressing – but it is precisely why I am writing the book.

So how the hell do we turn this around?  Stay tuned.  After I finish my scotch and the rest of the work, you’ll see. 

It {should} end well.

jag

 

The Innovation of Things and The Innovations of Ways

I recently watched an excellent TED talk by Dan Pollata called “The Dreams We Haven’t Dared to Dream”. In his talk, Dan eloquently notes that while human ingenuity has exponentially increased the transistors on a chip for the past 40 years, we have not applied the same exponential thinking to our dreams nor human compassion. As he says, “we continue to make a perverse trade-off between our future dreams and our present state of evolution”.

Some describe this ethical stasis as “the tyranny of the OR”

In a similar vein, Stephen Hawking wrote in his book, On Equality, “If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.”

Unilever’s CEO, Paul Polman, put it more succinctly as he talked about the exponential growth of new technologies, “Power is dispersed, but wealth is concentrated”.

From my perspective and research for the book, Tip of the Spear, I have called it the challenge of the Innovation of Things versus the Innovation of Ways.

I will be discussing this in more detail in the book but I wanted to put this idea out there for feedback.

Innovation of Things is – as it name suggests – the creation of new tools, toys and devices that serve to make human live better, easier or interesting. It is the cars that move us, the computers that connect us and so much more. It is the “What”.

Innovation of Ways is the use of these tools to change the way we do something – from the way we build our cities, to how we share rides or rooms to how we run our finances or build our organizations. It is the “How”.

In the history of the world of innovation, How most often follows What.

But there is a growing conflict. The tension between the power of technology to create new and magical things (The What) and the ability of the human species to understand and absorb it all (the How) is central to my thesis of the book. It is growing more more acute every day.

Much of the Innovation I speak about in the Tip of the Spear – that is, the white hot edge of technology disruption –  centers on the Innovation of Things:  Robotics, AI, VR/AR and the long list of exponential technologies.

In my opinion, we are suffering because the Innovation of Ways is lagging – in many cases significantly.

But let’s add a second dimension to this to see if we can understand this a bit better. In my research it has helped me to think about how innovation is also broken down into Innovation for Wants and Innovation for Needs.

There is very, very different dynamic of capital flow, timeline horizons and even the type of individuals who are involved in these different areas.

It kind of looks like this – using my “Tip of the Spear” analogy.

Matrix1

Intuitively this makes sense. In a market and capital driven system, the return of capital in the top left quadrant is likely (I have no data – yet – on this) shortest, most obvious and highest. Anecdotally, it has often been said that the earliest use of the newest technologies is often the adult porn industry. New “toys” being applied to the most obvious and basest of “wants”.  Just check out want’s happening in Virtual Reality and think back to the introduction of VHS, the internet and many others through out history.  Gaming is a close second.

But – of course – this is far too simplistic in this extraordinary time of innovation and technological advances.  We are seeing new devices that are the result of combinations of exponential technologies in all areas of our lives. Many innovations start in the upper quadrant, then move down into the bottom left.

But what about the Innovation of Ways?  Coming back to Dan Pollata, I feel somehow – and my research is strongly hinting at this – that we are lacking the same heat and light in the areas of changing the way Government works, the Education systems and heath care for example.  These are clearly the “ways” of life – how we govern, organize, teach and heal.

My optimist side says that the new technology winners in the Innovation of Things will begin to turn their attention to the Innovation of Ways.  That is why I am so interested in what Mark Zuckerberg is doing with his Internet.org initiative to connect the planet to the Internet.  The cynic would say that it is to add more users to Facebook. But on very close read and observation – short of speaking directly with Mark – that is clearly not the case.

The pessimists will say that we are stalling in our global thinking that will transfer the best the Innovation of Things to the Ways of the world due to walls being built – literally and figuratively – across the world and the deep and concerning concentration of wealth and power with the new titans of technology.

The debate is the essence of the Tip of the Spear.

Would love your thoughts.

Jim

Welcome!


Welcome to my new company, website and forthcoming book, The Tip of the Spear.  It has been a very exciting journey.  Thank you to my pal Stephen King for his great work in making all of the pieces come alive, the irascible and amazing Geoff Moore for the ongoing writing expertise and editorial and to Cynthia van Sundert for the clear eye and ESL language skills.  It is all very much appreciated.

To read the full Tip of the Spear release, visit PRWEB: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2016/06/prweb13517531.htm

I have been slowly releasing my thinking and research over the past year in my personal blog jagyyc.com. As some of you will have read in these posts (culminating in my three-part series, The Tip of the Spear), I am very passionate about the subject of technology and digital disruption.

Discussion is everywhere on the implications and potentials – both good and bad – for a world that will be soon inundated with exponential technology changes.

I have been a part of this world for 30 years and I can assure you of two things: 1) no one knows where we are going to end up in 5 years let alone 10 or 30 years, and 2) we have to start having real conversations soon.

The genie is out of the bottle and it’s called: A.I., Robotics, Synthetic Biology, and several other disruptive technologies.

The Tip of the Spear is about three things:
people, change and how linear organizations have to become exponential

Our use of the technologies we have invented are now poised on a blade’s edge. Either the Tip of the Spear levels the playing field in areas such as Governance, Finance, and Education, or we use these extraordinary technologies to create further concentrations of wealth and increased inequality.  Either we use our newly connected planet to have real conversations or we let it devolve into a rabble at the gate.

The rabble is increasingly making our citizens, companies and governments nervous.  We see it in the Brexit vote, the rise of the American disenfranchised via Donald Trump, and the persistent unlevelled playing field across the world of finance, education and opportunity. I also see it in my city as it struggles with a new economic order and model. Finally, I see it the eyes of the newly unemployed.

It seems a cruel joke to me that just as we finish wiring up the planet to be able to connect the best of us – our ideas, hopes and innovation – the gaps start to show.  Slowly at first, but inevitably in an exponential shift. Our linear minds and linear institutions cannot keep up.

The Tip of the Spear is about three things.  Firstly, helping colleagues, companies, individuals and institutions really understand the scope and speed of change that is coming.  Secondly, about preparing them for a change that recognizes that the technology genies are not going back in the bottle. Finally, how our linear organizations have an incredible new opportunity – likely an imperative – to think exponentially and act differently.

My work is to take one individual, one company, one institution, one linear model at a time and help make the change happen.

Thank you for coming along on this journey.

Tip of the Spear: Part 3

Part 3: Action & Answers

I have spent much of the past year meeting and talking with people about their thoughts, fears, ideas and reactions to the technological changes happening around us. Between slugs of beer, coffee and other substances, the conversations have been superb.

These tête-à-têtes have been essential to help me understand whether or not this stuff really matters – and to whom.

I have observed several things:  Most of the people have had to think through and appreciate the pace of change that we were discussing. While disruption is an over-used and misused word these days, the pace and scope of change (when properly presented) and the questions raised, made all of these folks pause – at least for another sip of beer. Even those I would consider the “technology 1%” – the Tip of the Spear, and those most likely to be cynical of the conversation –  leaned in at the discussion of the eight tipping points I discussed in Parts 1 and 2 of this series.

All of the people I met, however, understood and appreciated the idea that the tip of the spear was indeed moving far ahead of the butt. All were able to provide examples of issues and ideas of where things were working and where they were not. All committed to thinking about their own reactions to some of the implications.

In short – unless I am surrounded by pleasers of the worst kind (I can assure you that’s not the case) –  this is a discussion whose time has come.

The last part of this series therefore is to look hard at these questions and present ideas on what I think the human species needs to be doing to keep the javelin flying straight. There are real concerns tempered with genuine hope for our future. Several of these insights came from the conversations I have had and of course still having, and the dialogues have been passionate. Other ideas stem from recollections, revived from notes I’ve kept over the years following discussions with some incredibly prescient people.

The Problem of the Wicked Problem

Before we look at the answers to the Tip of the Spear problem, I want to state clearly what I think the real problem is. In my opinion, the one true “wicked problem” boils down to Inequality; and I see three unique flavours: Inequality of Accountability, Inequality of Finance & Capital and Inequality of Education.  But to make this easier, there is another way of saying this:  Our world is filled with inequality because our world’s Playing Field is not level.  Simply stated.  Now, before I get my Libertarian and Ayn Rand followers frothing, I simply am pointing out the obvious. I am all for the survival of the fittest when the rules of the game are known and the players are equally distributed, but I can assure you as I have in earlier paragraphs, when the Tip moves too far from the butt, revolutions happen.  And that gap has a word: Inequality and the reason is the unleveled playing field.

Now this is a conversation from eternity, isn’t it?  The world’s game has been played on an unequal playing field since the beginning of time.  But here is the point.  For the first time in our human history we have the tools and capability to create the conditions for equality within a generation.  The first time. Ever. There has never been such a potential benevolent tipping point before in human history.  Something’s knocking at the clubhouse door and it’s either opportunity or the steel toed boot of the mob.

Our use of the technologies we have invented are now poised on a blade’s edge.  Either the Tip of the Spear levels the playing field in the areas of Governance, Finance, and Education, or we use these extraordinary technologies to create further concentrations of wealth and increased inequality.   Either we use our newly connected planet to have real conversations or we let it devolve into a rabble at the gate.  Our choice – and I am painting this in a black and white “this OR that” way purposefully because I believe the stakes are that high.  To repeat, the Tip is moving faster away from the tail, and if left unchecked, our world is going to look very different within this generation.

“If machines produce everything we need”, Stephen Hawking wrote in On Inequality, “ the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.” Unilever’s CEO, Paul Polman, put it more succinctly, “Power is dispersed, but wealth is concentrated”.

Nothing exemplifies this quote more than the history of the leading organizations from the 90’s and those of today. Back in 1990, the largest employers in the North American economy included the big three automakers –  GM, Ford, Chrysler. When we compare them to the big three tech companies of today, the economic realities are startling: In 1990, the trio of American automakers brought in $36 billion in revenue altogether, and employed over one million workers; Apple, Facebook and Google, which together bring in more than $1 trillion dollars in revenue, employee only 137,000 workers.

In an article called “New World Order,” published in 2015 in Foreign Affairs[1], Eric Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee, and Michael Spence (a Nobel laureate and professor at New York University) argued that “superstar-based technical change … is upending the global economy.” That economy, they conclude, will increasingly be dominated by members of the small elite that ‘innovate and create’. If technology leads to more inequality, it may have the effect of suffocating demand from the economy and can become self-destroying, making further technological evolution redundant as only the few could afford it.”

The growing inequality around the world can no longer be ignored, and addressing this and the other problems of capitalism, such as environmental degradation, is not only the morally right thing to do, but the pragmatic thing to do.

So let’s speculate how these three areas might play out.

Leveling the Governance Playing Field

A common example of how the Tip of the Spear has moved very far from the tail is found in how our systems of government are simply not able to keep pace with the changing nature of the world of technology and the speed and importance of innovation.  The populace is increasingly finding itself at odds with personal technologies and work systems vastly more efficient and effective than those of government – including the ability to participate in the decision making and innovation processes of the governing bodies.  As President Obama recently said, “We’re the only advanced democracy in the world that makes it harder for people to vote…it (was) easier to order a pizza than vote. How do we redesign our systems so we don’t have 50% voter participation?”

Worse, the increasing distrust and cynicism of the developed and the developing world of our governance systems is at an all-time high.  My previous discussion of Mr. Trump is the perfect example. And it’s a frightening reality.

Of all of the innovation and responses to change I have seen and researched, it is the ability to re-shape how our governments function in a connected world that has the potential for the largest impact on closing disconnection inherent in modern democracies, the inequality gap.  This is where the tail meets the 21st century.

From the essay in the World Economic Forum in May of 2016, the author saw the challenge of bringing technology into government, however, as no simple panacea:

“Part of the explanation is that technology is a problem as well as a solution. ‘There’s a lot of technological triumphalism about how [the internet] can be used to improve democracy,’ says the columnist and former White House speechwriter David Frum. ‘But in the end what seems to have happened is that it’s empowered angry and highly motivated minorities, and empowered them to slow down the system. Getting things done seems to go slower and slower every decade. How long does it take to build a highway? How long does it take to build a bridge? How long does it take to get a presidential nominee through the Senate?”

The result is what Francis Fukuyama has labelled ‘vetocracy’, in which it is much easier to stop things than start them. Even the admirable devotion to increasing official transparency has sometimes been counter-productive – ‘like creating a big Amazon rating system for government that only allows one- or two-star ratings’, according to Archon Fung of the Kennedy School of Government.

Another problem, which it is impossible to overestimate the extent of, is the pressure of the accelerated news agenda. Put simply, those in government often lack the time to think – to take time to chew through problems and come up with policies rather than being forced to respond to the latest gyrations of the 24-hour media cycle”.[2]

However, even with these challenges combined with added security, more trust and an algorithmically driven, automated future now on the cards, governments continue to look to the internet to transform public services. So as well as regulating it as a utility, governments need to innovate around the internet- and that’s something the commercial world is dragging its heels on.

The three biggest sources of deep innovation in global governance I have found are the Blockchain Technology, Open Big Data and The Emerging Economies

The Blockchain:  Welcome to the Digital Nation

The Blockchain – the underlying technology of Bitcoin –  has become a very popular, if widely misunderstood possibility for radical innovation in the local, national and global governance model. In short the Blockchain could completely change how any organization manages data and keep records. Blockchain anonymizes blocks of encrypted data in ledgers disparately across the network, recording when and by whom data is accessed, and making data effectively both decentralized and tamper-proof. Governments around the world are taking notice.

An unexpected leader:  Eastern Europe’s Estonia. 

At the heart of Estonia’s e-Residency initiative is Bitnation, a blockchain-powered ‘virtual nation’ that allows e-residents to notarize marriages, birth certificates, and business contracts. It’s used elsewhere, too, with Blockchain platform Guardtime working with Estonia’s e-Health authority.

Citizens can not only view their own medical records, but also see exactly who else has inspected them, and when. What’s more, that kind of data is permanently attached to their records, and cannot be deleted or tampered with. But Estonia’s e-Residency has an even more ambitious aim.

“In Estonia we believe that people should be able to freely choose their digital/public services best fit to them, regardless of the geographical area where they were arbitrarily born,” says Kaspar Korjus, e-Residency Program Director. “We’re truly living in exciting times when nation states and virtual nations compete and collaborate with each other on an international market, to provide better governance services.”

From their web-site, https://e-estonia.com,

“e-Estonia means voting in elections from the comfort of your own living room. Filing your income tax return in just five minutes. Signing a legally-binding contract over the Internet, from anywhere in the world, via your mobile phone. These are just a few of the services that Estonians take advantage of on a regular basis.

For their part, entrepreneurs can register businesses in as little 18 minutes, check vital company, property and legal records online, and even integrate their own secure services with the ones offered by the state.

Interaction among government agencies, and between the government and citizens, has been completely transformed in e-Estonia, quickly making bureaucracy a thing of the past and making the running of all levels of government more efficient than ever before.
With the blockchain as the foundation for trust and privacy, citizens are starting to participate directly in the re-imaging of government interactions in completely new ways.

Open Big Data: Cities as A Collaborative Source of the Data to Drive Innovation

While national governments are taking the lead on some tech issues, the real engines of innovation and experimentation are municipalities and big cities. The NYC Open Data Plan, for example, sees New York State make well over a thousand data sets from government agencies available to browse and download, while Chicago’s UI Labs’ CityWorks is encouraging the development of an internetof Things urban infrastructure.

From their website, “UI LABS is a first-of-its-kind innovation accelerator, addressing problems too big for any one organization to solve on its own. The challenges we are addressing in manufacturing and smart cities are at intersection of digital convergence: computing, big data, and the Internet of Things (IOT).

Both are great examples of large-scale digital planning that the commercial world isn’t going to work out on its own.  It’s collaborative, open and real-time.

Emerging Economies:  The Great African Experiment

Africa is probably the area where the most disruptive changes will occur over the medium term.  Ironically, the continent’s lack of infrastructure may prove to be one of its greatest assets. It has forced entrepreneurs to contrive different solutions and jury-rig the limited resources available – primarily the mobile phone. Africa has already taken the lead when it comes to mobile banking and mobile health, and implemented those solutions faster than anywhere else. There’s a burgeoning sense that an app like Apple Pay wouldn’t be deemed newsworthy, a frog that’s been leaped already.

Some data with tremendous implications:

  • 700 million people will be moving into African cities in the next 35 years – that means an entire New York City has to be built every six months until 2050
  • Nine out of the 20 fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa
  • African startups raised USD 187.5 million last year
  • African venture capital companies reported up to 330% growth last year
  • Africa is home to one billion people and 200 million of these are aged 15-24
  • Africa has the fastest growing middle class in the world
  • Smartphone usage is at a tipping point, expected to reach 400 million users in 2020.

As new investment and capital begins to flow into the African continent over the next several decades a natural outcome is the harsh glare of the capitalistic due diligence spotlight. While early entrants into distressed regions often represent the worst of the self-interest businesses, history has shown that over time, capital flows from transparent nation states and global corporations tend – albeit imperfectly – to norm (i.e. effective oversight, governance and a reasonable return to capital). As we have found in all things in the Tip of the Spear world, scrutiny and iteration are often brutal but largely effective.

In short, turning the flywheel on the Sub-Saharan African continent is likely going to start with capital and investment. What’s new this time is that transparency and improved technology availability and literacy will move change along much more quickly.  Corrupt regimes that fail to provide transparency will fall with alarming speed and, ideally, with less intensity than the sectarian chaos of the so-called Arab Spring.

In summary, global governance inequality is at the root of the Tip of the Spear problem.  In the developed world, we are seeing the arrival of new technologies that are providing the potential for quantum changes in the control and access of the citizenry.  In the developing world – especially in Africa, capital inflows and entrepreneurial ecosystems are leading the way to bring the spotlight on inept governance and the benefits of a proper education.

Leveling the Financial & Technical Playing Field
Safe, efficient access to the fundamental tool of the economic game – the bank account – is staggeringly varied across the globe.  Do a gender, education or region pivot on that data set and you will quickly discover that what we absolutely take for granted in the developed world is not an easy thing. That is inequality.  But the Tip of the Spear is changing that game.

The Blockchain (again):  The ‘Unbanked’

Don and Alex Tapscott noted in their May 2016 book, “The Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business, and the World”, the problem of inequality isn’t necessarily capitalism itself. They note, “…financial and economic exclusion is the problem. Fifteen percent of the population in OECD countries has no relationship with a financial institution, with countries like Mexico having 73 percent of the population unbanked. In the United States, 15 percent over fifteen years of age, or 37 million Americans are ‘unbanked’.

“Financial inequality is an economic condition that can quickly morph into a social crisis …The problem is that most people never get a shot at seeing the benefits of the system because the Rube Goldberg machine of modern finance prevents many from accessing it… Blockchain will have the greatest impact in areas where the payment networks don’t exist or are very poor…Blockchain will push many nascent initiatives, such as mobile-money service providers like M-Pesa in Kenya, owned by Safaricom, and microcredit outfits globally, into high gear by making them open, global, and lightning fast.

Connectivity and Access

From the State of Connectivity Report commissioned by Facebook, we learn of some sobering statistics:

The developed world is largely online, but the developing world is a long way behind. Urban areas are connected; many rural areas are not. The less money you have, the less likely you are to be online. In many countries, women use the internet far less than men. And even if the entire world lived within range of the necessary infrastructure, nearly a billion people remain illiterate or otherwise unable to benefit from online content.

The internet is a catalyst for broader social and economic advances through access to education, economic and employment opportunities, and even healthcare. It is a critical tool for development and should be available to everyone. Acknowledging the importance of connectivity and the need to bring more people online faster, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) recently called on the international community to provide universal access to affordable internet by 2020.

Achieving global connectivity will require action to address the four key barriers to internet access:

  • Availability: Proximity of the necessary infrastructure required for access.
  • Affordability: The cost of access relative to income.
  • Relevance: A reason for access, such as attractive content in people’s main language.
  • Readiness: The capacity to access, including skills, awareness and cultural acceptance.

These barriers do not arise in isolation, nor can they be addressed in isolation. They function as a cluster, each one affecting the others. Unless corporations, government, NGOs and non-profits work together to address these chief barriers to access, the digital divide will persist and expand.

While we are sometimes cynical of the efforts by a global pillar of the digital community like Facebook (i.e. the greater the connectivity, the greater the users of Facebook, etc.), there is ample evidence that the company and its CEO have understood that access to the online infrastructure of the internet is a pre-condition to economic and education literacy and is a perfect example of the Tip of the Spear technologies being used to close the gap along the shaft.

In summary, the leveling of the financial and technological playing field begins with two basic foundations: Making the banking relationship simple, affordable and accessible and 2) Making broadband internet access available to all. Solving the transparency and efficacy of government and leveling the financial playing field leaves us with the biggest challenge of all, leveling the education playing field.

Leveling the Education Play Field

If we are free from oppression (leveling the governance playing field) and able to join the starting blocks of the financial system without prejudice, then access to education becomes the final Playing Field to level.

The added challenge here is that the playing field is tilted in different parts of the world for very different reasons.  Let’s look at both the developing world and the developed world for two different views.

The Developing World

The single greatest determinant to economic success and the demarcation line between developing and developed nations is literacy.

While the number of illiterate persons has fallen over the past decade some challenging statistics are present:

  • 774 million adults – 64% of whom are women – still lack basic reading and writing skills.
  • In 2011, the global adult literacy rate was 84.1%, compared to 89.5% for youth.
  • More than three-quarters illiterate adults are found in South and West Asia and sub-Saharan Africa;
  • In 21 countries fewer than 50% of the children of primary school age learn the basics in mathematics.
  • In 27 countries, 9 out of 10 of the poorest young women have not completed primary school

This is a challenging set of statistics.  It reminds those of us lucky enough to have the tools and skills to able to read this blog that the global experience of education inequality is real and in these specific regions the tip lags furthest from the butt. It is here the three inequalities are obviously so completely interlinked: corrupt governance leads to lack of investment in basic life infrastructure which in turn makes financial access impossible.  It is a seemingly impossible cycle to change.

But there is hope.    

There are many trends that have surfaced in my discussions and research but three stand out:

  • The Rise of Transparency: As we discussed in the leveling the governance playing field section, the gradual disappearance of corrupt regimes combined with the dramatic cost reductions and availability of technology is enabling citizens to demand essential services such as primary education and literacy.
  • The Leapfrogging Technology: The “exponential path” is possible as we begin to see developing countries literally by-pass an entire generation of experimental technologies and infrastructure investments to emerge digitally reading. It is as though smart, well governed nations possible have the ability to “disrupt” developed countries – much like the upstart firms in Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma were able to out-maneuver the much larger and established companies because of their legacy of business and economic models.
  • The Connected Youth: What many of the world’s leaders need to understand – and especially those that are less than transparent open and free is that once given access to the technology, it will be the youth of the nation that latches hold the quickest. And once that genie is out the bottom, the youngest generations with access to the global internet and the rudiments of the financial systems will actually own the keys the new economy and will – faster than most leaders will ever appreciate – hold the keys to the future.  Leadership that resists this will not survive for long.

The Developed World

In the developed world the education playing field has a very different set of challenges; the Tip of the Spear technologies and future ways of work are completely out of sync with the way we are educating our children.

Sal Khan, the founder of the extraordinarily successful Khan academy which is providing online knowledge, skills and education in ways never before seen, and at a marginal cost (i.e. approaching zero) that invites universal access, says in a 2014 speech that the “pyramid of education and training is inverted and he seeks to turn it upside-down.”  What he refers to is that the core skills that traditionally made up of primary and secondary education need to be “automated” – leaving room to change the teacher into the creative facilitator that not only changes the value of the teacher but fundamentally changes how individuals move through the system of acquiring knowledge and skills throughout their lifetime. It is a powerful acknowledgement and argument of not the need to change but that the tools that we have at our fingertips are there to help us re-think education and deliver knowledge in new and innovative ways.

Perhaps the greatest opportunity of all is the ability of the developing nations – supported and facilitated institution and organizations of the developed economies – to leapfrog the largely “analog” education experience of the 20th century and take full advantage of the tools, connectivity and insight we have acquired in the past 20 years.

Finally:  Being Human

There are many more brilliant examples that my research has catalogued and that I am documenting. I will expand on many of them in the upcoming book. As I researched and reflected on global and local examples, I was struck by something in all of them:  While most were profoundly smart and innovative, all had a single common thread:

Using the collective best of what makes us human with the power of innovation.  In short, solutions appeared when we made it personal, when we connected with our fellow man and when we reminded ourselves of our collective human powers.

I recently watched an excellent TED talk by Dan Pollata called “The Dreams We Haven’t Dared to Dream” that put a similar (and beautifully done) spin on the story.  In his talk Dan eloquently notes that while human ingenuity has exponentially increased the transistors on a chip for the past 40 years, we have not applied the same exponential thinking to our dreams nor human compassion. We continue to make a perverse trade-off between our future dreams and our present state of evolution. Some describe the ethical stasis as “the tyranny of OR (our dreams).”

The best way to complement or augment this exponential growth of technology is through connected “present” humans in ways that inspire. The power of joy, compassion, love, hope and kindness are extraordinary human things.  When magnified by a movement they are truly inspiring and indeed exponential – easily matching the pace of technology.

So that is the theme of the examples I have come across: When we amplify the best of what makes of us human through the use of the technologies at the “tip of the spear” we can easily keep pace – and solve some wicked hard problems.

So it’s time for exponential “humanness”.  But…

But things get in the way, don’t they?  The individuals in our human collective are suffering from A.D.D. and many have forgotten how to listen. We fight each other for face time, space time and air time. We have generally stopped thinking critically and have stopped being compassionate. Worse, we allow the tools to amplify the bullies who use the connected medium to lower discourse to unprecedented depths of biliousness and broadcast the basest traits of our species.

Watching the reaction to the devastating fires in Fort McMurray here in my province of Alberta (as well as other traumatic and very public events) what occurs to anyone with a modicum of humanity is that what ALWAYS rises to the top – at least initially – is the extraordinary compassion for our fellow man/woman/child.  “How can I help NOW in the basics of human needs – food, shelter, warmth?”

What then happens – inevitably and most unfortunately – is that the discourse gets hijacked. When the conversation moves online – as it always does – commentary and passive aggressive trolling pushes the discussion off the rails. Base-level human behaviours inevitably show up and things devolve astonishingly quickly. What begins as a collective response to human need – spreading exponentially and positively – became a vitriol of the trolls. In the case of Fort McMurray, online newspaper and Facebook discussion threads saw the deniers of climate change met head-on by the shouts of “karma” by the radical environmentalist.  The poor souls who happen to be in Fort McMurray in the spring of 2016 simply needed shelter, food and water.

In the face of this, the best of our humanness disappears, “I am out of here…” the best respond.   Worse, it puts another shadow on our belief and faith in the collective human experience. We start to back away from the very tools that give us access to the best and the brightest.

Some of the lead actors of the brilliant ideas and leadership in local and global innovations, have figured out that in order to “exponentially” advance the discussion they have had to learn how to navigate the open channels and water of disconnected, virtual, messy online discourse.

What they all have done from my observation is deploy what I have come to call the “Rhythm of Innovation”.  In a previous blog post, I discuss this rhythm where the asynchronous (i.e. different time) conversation – (brutally efficient, often caustic and sometimes brilliant online conversation) is combined with “synchronous” human interactions (face-to-face). The best of the innovators then circle back as the online asynchronous conversation picks up the best of what happened in the face-to-face meetings as people return to their physical, global and often distant lives.  The best innovators have understood that complex problems require the best of the asynchronous and synchronous conversations and do an amazing job of joining them in harmony.

It is always stunning to me how the ‘humanness’ of simply sharing a meal or the age-old conversations starters of the coffee or drink rapidly weed out the those whose opinion is left to the passive aggressive and much colder digital world.  But when combined, we can go grow, go exponential.

Conclusion

In summary, there is much to think about and much to do as we examine the Tip of the Spear and its increasing distance from the tail. There is a hard challenge awaiting those trying to solve these “wicked problems” of today – be they unforeseen natural disasters or the man-made challenges of changing generationally stalled institutions.  But I am more than ever convinced that the solutions to our problems lay in capacity of our connected planet and the resulting collective brilliance found by opening up the discussion. And by doing so we will invite in the noisy, angry and disaffected. Some of whom are articulate and unfortunately persistent. And we will persevere.

The Tip of the Spear is the continuation of a multi-year journey exploring the best example of how the world is answering the call of inequality and specifically how our collective brilliance in using technologies at the Tip of the Spear is making change happen.

Along the way I will be working with individuals and organizations who seek to find solutions within their homes, their lives and their ecosystems; helping to understand – together – how they can channel the best of their world to solve their own wicked problems and keep their spear moving in a way that will fly straight and true.

Stay tuned for the book and much more.

Jim

[1] https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2014-06-04/new-world-order

[2] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/05/everything-is-speeding-up-except-politics-why/

Tip of the Spear: Part 2 – Questions

Part 1 of the Tip of the Spear blog post suggested we needed to “appreciate” the scope and speed of the technological change happening around us. It also hinted that there is a growing disconnect between those leading these changes and the rest of the world that will be affected by them. The summary: The Tip of the Spear is moving disconcertingly far from the tail. 

So what to do?

This second post suggests that before we “do” too much, we focus on “asking” the questions of the people around us; that we take an active role in understanding the changes happening and that we ask our leaders, peers, colleagues, children and surrogates to pay attention. The “act” part comes last.

Ask.

Part of the reason I suggested in Part 1 to spend time looking at the context of what’s happening in technology, is that in order to understand the answers people are giving, one needs to form at least an initial hypothesis about how technology will affect you, your family and peers. That is why it is so important to read and figure things out for yourself, become informed and appreciate the speed and scope of change. The “Fourth Industrial Revolution” – as the World Economic Forum calls it – (here) is real.

So with that background, here is a suggestion: the next time you meet with someone who has even a small amount of control over your life – for example your local, regional or federal politician, or your school teachers or principal for your kids – be prepared to ask a simple question. What does the future hold for you? Ask them to describe what their world will look like in five years?

It is a simple question but shockingly revealing. I recently asked a politician what he understood as the cause, effect and implications of Uber for the city. (Our city recently and surprisingly rejected Uber). His answer was naïve at best and economically harmful to the City at worst. His answer centred around providing protection to the jobs and investment already made by the taxi industry. I said to him – with respect – that the ability to answer that question told me immediately whether he understood the digital economy (and frankly whether I would spend anytime going forward with him or his campaign.)

Now before you think I am a digital elitist, think about the policy implications of such a question. It goes to the heart of the role and the speed the government plays in establishing the rules of the game. It is the speed and depth of any ruling party’s response that is under siege at the moment. Given enough time, any political organization (with perhaps the exception of the US Congress at the moment) can figure out a civilian appropriate response.

But things are moving far too fast for traditional responses. As Klaus Schwab the founder of the World Economic Forum eloquently puts it,

Current systems of public policy and decision-making evolved alongside the Second Industrial Revolution, when decision-makers had time to study a specific issue and develop the necessary response or appropriate regulatory framework. The whole process was designed to be linear and mechanistic, following a strict “top down” approach.

But such an approach is no longer feasible. Given the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s rapid pace of change and broad impacts, legislators and regulators are being challenged to an unprecedented degree and for the most part are proving unable to cope.

How, then, can they preserve the interest of the consumers and the public at large while continuing to support innovation and technological development? By embracing “agile” governance, just as the private sector has increasingly adopted agile responses to software development and business operations more generally. This means regulators must continuously adapt to a new, fast-changing environment, reinventing themselves so they can truly understand what it is they are regulating. To do so, governments and regulatory agencies will need to collaborate closely with business and civil society.

If you can’t demonstrate that you have at least considered the most obvious of the disruptions, what can I think of your ability to craft progressive tax policy to attract capital to support new investment in Innovation, for example?

 So here are some examples of things we need to start asking. There are many, many more questions but it’s a start.

 Parents: Read some stuff, for goodness sake. Stop looking at funny cat videos on Facebook or reading the 12 ways that avocado can help your sex lives on Twitter. Then have your 12-year-old explain Snapchat to you. Or far more important, talk to your kids about the skills the future will need and what they can do today to prepare (that, of course, will require you to understand what those might be). Demand that your school bring in realistic role models that come from the near future. Ask your kid’s principal about what they are doing to showcase entrepreneurship as a career. Ask your child’s teacher what they understand about the future of artificial intelligence and the impact on learning. Ask them if they understand the impact of an always-on digital mobile device is having on little Johnny’s ability to think original thoughts, be focused and put together a cogent sentence. (Forward them this excellent essay on the subject, 4 things Millennials need to navigate the Fourth Industrial Revolution to get the conversation flowing. )

 Voters: Ask anyone running for office or any party to explain their position on the future of innovation and if the Fourth Industrial Revolution resonates at all to them. If that is too vague, be more specific to an issue that is relevant to your jurisdiction – job re-allocation in the world of AI; new training and skills development for displaced workers; universal high availability Internet; tax policies to attract the necessary capital to make a lot of this happen. Ask them how they feel about having a Minister of the Future.

Civic Leaders: Be transparent. Learn and use digital tools with your constituents. Learn and adopt best practices from around the world without having to travel. Understand how to harness the power of the crowd – digitally – without it becoming the power of the mob. Create hackathons that invite smart people to team up with average citizens and civic leaders to ask how to make government better. Speak authentically about the realities and challenges of this “new order”.

Digital Leaders: (Yah, you too!) Stop intellectually masturbating about the utopian future and recognize that people are really struggling with this. It is hard and it is frightening to some. Write about the coming changes with compassion and humanity. Give back to the community – help young entrepreneurs understand that technology is always two sided. Spend time with your elderly colleagues. Speak at local schools and give back. Speak out about digital government. Ask, “why it’s easier to order a pizza online than it is to digitally vote?”

Business Leaders: Understand to what degree you are in the strategic cross hairs. Ask the question, “do I understand enough of the coming disruption to prepare all of my stakeholders for the changes they might invoke?”

 Professionals: Assume your client (patient, etc.) is smart and that they can work with you to help solve the problem. Be efficient – maximize value versus billable hours. Teach and pass along – encourage collaboration. Ask, “how can we work smarter together to solve the problem?”

Teachers: Understand and teach innovation. Bring in real entrepreneurs into your classroom. Challenge the curriculum. Understand that your field will change the most in the next decade and ask your trustees and curriculum designers. Ask the following: “are we teaching the right ways to think and learn for the next generation?” “Do we appreciate the implications of our new understanding of cognitive sciences – how our brains work – and look at new learning strategies for different learning capabilities?” “Does the brain of an ‘always on’ child develop the right skills at the right time in the right way?”

Average Citizen. Recognize that you choose to be involved or not. But you do have a responsibility to your family. Simple involvement is to have an honest conversation with your children or colleague about what the near future holds for them. Share articles that go beyond the trivial and look more deeply into the social, economic and political issues that these changes will bring.  Put down your mobile device completely at least once a week and have a conversation with your friends and family; read an article longer than 5 pages; but whatever you do, please don’t buy into the fear mongering.

From the Fourth Industrial Revolution conclusion,

“…neither technology nor the disruption that comes with it is an exogenous force over which humans have no control. All of us are responsible for guiding its evolution, in the decisions we make on a daily basis as citizens, consumers, and investors. We should thus grasp the opportunity and power we have to shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution and direct it toward a future that reflects our common objectives and values.”

So, connecting back to Ray Kurzweil and Donald Trump from Part 1.  On reflection, I think the juxtaposition of these two archetypes comes at a very important time. I am convinced that the forces of change are coming very quickly. The meta story of Trump and the disenfranchised gives us early warning signs. The canary hasn’t died yet, but after this election cycle runs its course, it will have emerged from the coal mine gasping and frightened about what lies below.

Pay attention. Learn. Read. Ask. Big waves are great when you can anticipate and ride them but are horrifying when they toss you about and rip your bathing suit off.

In the last part of the Tip of the Spear, I will examine in more detail some of those who have understood, then asked the hard question and are now making positive (yet still very disruptive) change happen.  I will look at education, government/social and business examples that will give you hope and ideas for your own action.

Stay tuned.

 

 

Tip of the Spear: Part 1

“The future has arrived — it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”  William Gibson, 1992

Two questions: What do Donald Trump and Ray Kurzweil have in common; and who the heck is Ray Kurzweil?

Donald Trump?  Well, we have had to create a separate Internet just to handle the digital spew written about him.  I’ll get to him in a moment.

From his biography: Ray Kurzweil has been described as “the restless genius” by The Wall Street Journal, and “the ultimate thinking machine” by Forbes. Inc. magazine ranked him #8 among entrepreneurs in the United States, calling him the “rightful heir to Thomas Edison,” and PBS selected Ray as one of 16 “revolutionaries who made America,” along with other inventors of the past two centuries. He is considered one of the world’s leading inventors, thinkers, and futurists, with a 30-year track record of accurate predictions.

Ray has written many things but it is his two books that have defined an age:  Age of Spiritual Machines has been translated into nine languages and was the #1 best-selling book on Amazon in science. The Singularity Is Near, was a New York Times bestseller, and has been the #1 book on Amazon in both science and philosophy.  It predicts a future date in time, “the Singularity,” when machine intelligence crosses human intelligence.  An amazing and frightening read.

How can these two impossibly different humans have anything remotely in common?

It was a strange occurrence in my daily reading when I read an Economist magazine treatise on the state of Artificial Intelligence followed immediately followed by their artful bashing of Mr. Trump that got me thinking, “Is there a connection here?”

As I thought about it, I finally put into focus something that has been concerning me for a while: the growing distance between the promise of the future and those driving it forward and those that have very little chance of benefiting from this future – what I call the future disenfranchised.

So what to do? 

This 3-part blog post looks at the Tip of the Spear phenomenon with an eye to providing some concrete thoughts to move ahead.

This first post asks us to “appreciate” the growing distance from the “tip” to the “tail” by providing some background, links and context.  The second post will look at the questions we need to “ask” and of whom.  The third will look at some people making a difference as they “act” to help make the arrow fly straighter (to continue the analogy).

 Part 1:  “Appreciate”:  The problem is a lot bigger than you think.

If any of my  colleagues and readers/followers haven’t read where things are at in the state of technology, do so.  Some of you may say, “Got it, read all about it…”   I can assure {most} of you that you haven’t.

From digital disruption in almost every imaginable business arena to fundamental change in the everyday fabric of our personal and social lives – change is coming fast.  I believe it. I have lived it. I make my living understanding the implications, causes, and strategies for these technologies.  And I have never experienced such clarity assessing the impact of these relentless waves of change. The tide cannot be turned back.

Do me a favour: Read the latest posts from the Singularity Hub blog (after Ray’s vision) about the top eight technologies, their current state and the impacts in the next five years. I can assure you that after reading you will appreciate that we are on the “elbow” of the exponential curve – it’s just getting started.   Or just as good, a16z’s Chris Dixon’s “What’s Next in Computing”Or if you want a more humorous but equally accurate and engaging post, read “WaitButWhy?”  from Tim Urban – a reality check on Artificial Intelligence.

Do it.  Then come back and continue this read.  Or read the following excerpts.

As the Singularity Hub notes, an expert might be reasonably good at predicting the growth of a single exponential technology (e.g., 3D printing), but try to predict the future when AI, robotics, VR, drones, and computation are all doubling, morphing and recombining. You have a very exciting (read: unpredictable) future…

To paraphrase Kurzweil: The Law of Accelerating Returns: Looking at biological evolution on Earth, the first step was the emergence of DNA, which provided a digital method to record the results of evolutionary experiments. Then, the evolution of cells, tissues, organs and a multitude of species that ultimately combined rational thought with an opposable appendage (we’re all thumbs and then some) caused a fundamental paradigm shift from biology to technology. The first technological steps — sharp edges, fire, the wheel — took tens of thousands of years. For people living in this era, there was little noticeable technological change in even a thousand years.

By 1000 A.D., progress was much faster and a paradigm shift required only a century or two. In the 19th century, we saw more technological change than in the nine centuries preceding it. Then in the first 20 years of the 20th century, we saw more advancement than in all of the 19th century. Now, paradigm shifts occur in only a few years’ time. The World Wide Web did not exist in anything like its present form just a decade ago, and didn’t exist at all two decades before that. As these exponential developments continue, we will begin to unlock unfathomably productive capabilities and begin to understand how to solve the world’s most challenging problems. There has never been a more exciting time to be alive.

After you have read enough, you cannot help feel exhilarated on the one hand and a deep feeling of unease that there are going to be a lot of folks who will be deeply messed up by these changes. Many of whom don’t yet have a clue and a very select few, the tip of the spear, who have had the luxury including time, intelligence, education, capital, etc to anticipate, plan for, and obtain the keys to this new digital kingdom.

Now where does Donald Trump fit?

He is the butt of the spear isn’t he? Or perhaps he represents the rabble outside the binary walls of the digital kingdom. Trump is simply an amplifier for a growing class of human beings that are increasingly at odds with the world around them.  He is the manifestation (or more likely the exploiter) of disenfranchised and angry humans who sense (and rightly so) they are being left behind and are “mad as hell” and “not going to take it any more”.

I also believe he represents a hint as to what a dystopian future might look like. I am concerned because history has shown many times when the “ruling” class gets too far ahead of the masses, heads roll – literally in many cases.  As noted, we have witnessed incredible technological change in the past 10, 20 and 50 years but I can assure you that the “reptilian brain” that drives our basest needs and desires has changed very, very little in the same time period and some would argue that in the scale of evolutionary time frame, there isn’t a chance it could.

Even more troubling is that the very systems of governance, market forces, laws and other fundamental frameworks are simply not capable of moving at the speed of change. Not even close. Think of the standoff between Apple and the FBI, the dilemma Netflix poses to the CRTC or FTC or the havoc Uber has wreaked on the taxi industry.  The free-market alone will not “solve” this calculus of change.

On the other side of the equation are the makers, inventors and those profiting from this digital disruption. My hard glare at them is simple:  Ask the fundamental questions:  Just because I can, does it mean I should and if I should, then how?

Fun times.

So what to do? 

 Part 2:  “Ask” …  coming soon

The Future of {Re}search

As many of my colleagues and followers know, I have been given the brilliant opportunity through my book research to work with a company called Quid and their extraordinary semantic search tool.  This post is a summary of my observations and my best guess at the implications of such a tool for both general search and focused research after a couple of months of hands-on usage.  As a full disclaimer, I have no direct economic investment or interest in the company. I like their tool.  They believe I have something to add to their discussion with influencers and companies. We are both happy!

This is a long post, here is the TL;DR version:

Quid is a tool that is changing the research and search game. It has four implications:

  • The Future of search is Semantic:   Understanding deep inter-connections of people, places and things is essential to navigating an increasingly complex world. This is done – in part – by semantic ontologies and Quid has done a fabulous job at this.
  • Visualization Matters:  New methods of information visualization and presentation are required to show and interact with Semantic search  results and what has been started with Quid is very compelling.
  • Humans and Machines need to do what they do best:  The true value of the Quid tool is the head start it gives those with some domain knowledge. You can immediately see what the “division of labour” should be when you use a tool like Quid.
  • Bots are the Future of Search:  Looking ahead and speculating, I think that automation and “search for me” tools will become essential next steps as the speed of change increase in every domain.  This would be a natural add-on to Quid’s technology.

In summary, on the surface, Quid is changing the very nature research and search.  But more profoundly it is changing how we interpret the future and how professionals can provide value in this future.  It is also changing the opportunities in public policy research and in understanding complex ecosystems such as start-ups and health care.

Quid here…

Continue…

Strategy is Hard. Tactics are {Easier}

Innovation and change comes primarily from the intersection of existing and new disciplines. What makes today’s reality challenging – business, economic, political and social – is that most of these combinations were not possible even a few years ago.  And there are new possibilities coming every day at an increasing rate.

Understanding these intersections help us identify business opportunities and threats or at a minimum provides interesting social media and cocktail party fodder.

But it’s really hard.

Sifting through what’s happening and where things are going requires new tools to help you understand the big picture, distinguish between central and peripheral concepts, brands or products and to see how concepts are influenced and change over time.

I have seen some of them in my current research and they are very, very cool. For example, see what the folks at Quid are up to  www.quid.com. In future blogs I will point out more of these gems.

But what makes it more complicated is that even when armed with this new knowledge, we need to decide whether we are on defense (i.e. “getting in the new game”) or offense (i.e. “changing the game”) all the while the rules of the game are morphing.

It occurred to me, therefore, that while it is traditional to say that “strategy is easy; tactics are hard”, I would argue that for the next 3-5 years, the opposite is true.

In an age of disruption, strategy is hard.  Once the course is set, our access to the talent, teams, capital and other resources is now global, virtual and mobile.  Tactics are becoming easier.

Strategy and Tactics: Welcome to the AND economy.

Alberta’s Start-up Tech Ecosystem: Why not here?

It occurred to me as I watched another western Canadian technology firm head down to spend 42 hours in the valley ecosystem, that there is an unfortunate analogy with the Canadian Oil and Gas industry.  Instead of bitumen, unprocessed heavy crude and natural gas, we are speaking of intellectual property, human capital and innovation moving south.  And instead of moving to the Gulf refineries, we are “shipping the crude” to that other refinery – Silicon Valley.

Let’s build the technology equivalent of upgraders and refineries right here.  There is no reason that we need to go south in a world as connected as ours. We are sending our talent, intellectual property, unfinished opportunities, highly skilled jobs, diversification opportunities and tax dollars south by doing so.

Locally, I look to the A100 (and the AEC backed Accelerate Fund) and its ecosystem; StartUp Calgary and its university allegiances.  In the east we have the superb iNovia team, OMERS and the Canadian Council of Innovators; I look to local companies like Benevity (Global sales and US funded but staying put) headed by the indefatigable Brian deLottinville as excellent examples of a Canada first approach.

Our small economic size means the need for connectivity, efficiency and speed.  We have that in spades.  Its time for thoughtful government macro policy, broad based entrepreneurial mentoring and capital maturity to think beyond – to modernize an old Canadian chestnut,  “hewers of wood, drawers of water and writers of code”.

Time to put the shovel in the ground.

Game On!

Collective Brilliance: A New Leadership Paradigm

If you have read Walter Isaacson’s excellent biography of Steve Jobs you will know that one of the central themes of the book – whether intended or not – is the nature of business leadership.   The book’s detailed chronicles of the “corporate misogyny” of Mr Jobs juxtaposed against the failures and ultimate global success of Apple & Pixar makes for compelling reading and raises a fundamental question about leadership:  “To make extraordinary things happen, does a leader have to be an A–hole?”

Or put less colloquially: “Are great strides only achievable through huge and often ‘extra-human’ sacrifice?”

The stories of Mark Zukerberg of Facebook are legendary.  Similarly, at Microsoft, a meeting with Bill Gates would often end with the line. “Are you just ignorant or stupid?”

Is that what leadership has become in technology companies?   You either are a God or you suck;  Your product succeeds quickly or it fails fast.  Binary.  Black.  White?  While in extremely rare cases these leadership approaches can generate huge wins, they are also hugely divisive and create enormous costs to employees and society.  They are also horrible models to emulate for the average technology start-up and their leaders.

The real truth is that leading a modern technology company is a far more complex calculus.
Continue…

On Disruptive Innovation, Safety and Training

I recently gave a presentation to a group C-level executives and other leaders from the Safety and Training world on behalf of National Safety Council and United Rentals. It was a chance for me to apply some of the global research on technology disruption to the real-world practitioners of where the “rubber hits the road”.

It was absolutely fascinating for me.

What became clear  as I delved deeply into the challenges of the safety and training was how much this group of smart, front-line people were dealing with the issues and risks of new technology implementation and adaptation by their workforce.

In the conclusion of our presentation, I made the case – and I felt this very strongly – that the safety and training profession will become the front line of the intersection of the virtual world and the real world of people, jobs, training and disruption.

It was also clear that it was a very exciting time to be in the field – or potentially a frightening time. It depends – as do many things in life – how you view things.

Have a read here:

The Rhythm of Innovation

When thinking about Innovation, I have been wondering if there is a new way to think about the “process” as companies and individuals embrace the idea that innovation is much more about execution than simply ideation.

In today’s world, human beings individually and collectively create, learn and grow in essentially two ways:

Face to Face interaction (Same time) – or what I call synchronous engagement – bringing the best of what makes us human to the table:  Spontaneity, emotional interaction, human interplay and ‘riffing’.  Facilitation excellence, magic can happen when smart, engaged people are paired.

Online interaction – (Different Time) – or what I call asynchronous engagement – excels at longer running interaction where ‘threads’ play out over time; where ideas and points of view – again if properly and effectively moderated – create an audit trail of the emerging themes and allow for more thoughtful participation. 

Crowdsourcing approaches can create moments of exciting and thoughtful, open interaction and can be combined with private collaboration that can allow smaller subsets of the crowd to work more intensely to drill into the details.  The online research & insight activity essential for innovation can be very flexible:  as new trends emerge from the digital discourse, new themes of deeper exploration can be injected in real time – both qualitatively and quantitatively.

When they are paired and integrated it forms what I call the Rhythm of Innovation.  It works something like this: Online “crowdsourcing” is used to build a trusted place for “digital discourse”.  Themes are explored and emerge.  These themes create focus and agenda for future discussions and provide insight for next steps.  Ideally the crowd shapes future agenda for more intensive synchronous discussions.

“Same time” meetings (doesn’t have to be “same place”) are then driven from a set of well-travelled discussion items.  Participants – sometimes sub-sets or segments of the larger crowd – are able to get out from behind the keyboard and be able to start with the canvas partially filled in.  The best of human interaction takes place:  increased intensity, focus, social, engagement, group activities. Etc.

The best part comes as the asynchronous online world “picks up the ball” after a real-time event.  Action items are explored and reviewed.  Ideation and co-creation of ideas are informed by deeper human understanding and the benefit of focus.  The “emotional quotient” of the participants vis-à-vis others is significant higher; the ‘crowd’ is no longer anonymous, social cues are much clearer and online “authenticity” begins.

And the cycle repeats. 

This rhythm is working well in some my largest clients as the line between offline and online discourse blurs and each begin to inform the other.   

When thinking of innovation, think of this new “rhythm”; with the crowd and the human face-to-face worlds combining to form a powerful continuum.