understanding the trends and forces that are transforming our world and igniting the need for readaptation The transformative forces

identifying the tools and skills to reach our full potential and thrive in a world of accelerating change Expanding human potential

analyzing the most promising breakthroughs beginning to flourish in this highly permissive ecosystem Intimations of a new world

0 In Tranformative Forces

Down the Digital Rabbit Hole

How Corporations need more help than they think in dealing with disruptive technologies, and what they can do about it.

Down the rabbit hole ready or not…

 

On March 30th 2017 I attended Tata Consultancy Services’ Innovation Forum in Sao Paulo. The event joined a select group of about one hundred executives from some of Latin America’s major business groups to talk about disruptive innovation. This article is my personal take on why organizations should listen to what the folks at TCS have to say. My next article will bring the event’s main takeaways.

 

Introduction

“In capitalist reality… it is not the (price) competition that counts, but the competition from the new commodity, the new technology, the source of supply, the new type of organization … competition which … strikes not at the margins of the profits and the outputs of the existing firms but at their foundations and their very lives.”

Joseph A. Schumpeter — Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, 1942

 

Warren Buffet popularized the term economic moat to describe the protected or hard-to-reproduce advantages that give a business the ability to secure long term profits and market share. Not all moats have stood ground in face of digital disruption. Indeed we’ve witnessed quite a few cases where, without apparent notice, entire industries have been transferred almost entirely to new digital players, from media and advertising to much of commerce, services and almost all of literature, games, music and film distribution. Yet most of the others have held strong. Indeed a case could be made that, just as natural selection favours the most prepared organisms, incumbent organizations of today are still leaders precisely because their moats are deep and wide enough as to survive even the current tech revolution.

Here is the problem with that.

 

The Change

Moat shmoat — Disruptive technologies acquired their name precisely because of their ability to undermine the very foundations over which market moats are constructed. Take digitalization, one of the pillars of technical disruption. Once a product can be duplicated and distributed through the web instantly and at virtually no cost, it passes from a state physical “scarcity” to one of digital “abundance” where traditional market entry barriers simply cease to exist. Now the control of resources, of distribution, the very operational and production process have shifted into alternative solutions usually multiple orders of magnitude cheaper. Next generation competitors then leverage these resources to offer alternative solutions at 10X efficiency or offer entirely new solutions more in tune to current demands. Take as 10x example Waze , creating an alternative to Navteq’s 1 billion+ assets in road sensors and equipment using only user smartphone GPS and spontaneous report (and breaking Nokia, who had just purchased Navteq, in the process). Another example is Uptake Technologieswho delivers predictive insights to discern system failures and inefficiencies through sensors and data analytics instead of man power, with a “plug-in” SaaS business model offering low implementation costs and immediate results. Customers gladly follow.

When a disruptive technology finally matures to the point of threatening a given market moat, it doesn’t chip away at higher profit margins or brand awareness, its moves the playing field altogether. If many moats are still standing, it could be because they are resistant to technological disruption, but it could just as easily be because the technology (and respective solutions) that can disrupt them has not reached market maturity yet. This begs a question: what is set to reach maturity?

Down the digital rabbit hole — So much transformation has been fueled by the recent wave of information and communication technologies (ICT) that we often associate them with the tech industry itself. Yet, revolutionary as they may be, they are in truth the tip of a bigger tech-iceberg that has so far been incubating beneath the surface and out of sight. Imagine that the market changes of the last three decades have so far been propelled by essentially three base technologies: the PC (triggered by Apple in 1975) the internet (popularized by the web browser, 1991) and mobile (with smartphones, 2001). Now if the time lapse between the arrival of these technologies is ever decreasing, is it only a matter of time before we reach a threshold where new foundational technologies will reach their respective market maturity in overlap. This point, according to specialists like Gartnerand Singularity University, is scheduled to start right about yesterday. At present, an armada of foundational technologies are breaking out of of their gestation phase and are estimated to reach their market maturity within the next 2 to 5 years, including Artificial Intelligence, IoT, Blockchain, Virtual Reality, 3D printing, Nanotechnology and Synthetic Biology, amongst many others.

Source

 

Different from ICT technologies which influence information, communication and distributions channels for digitized products — traits for the most part in the periphery of traditional manufacturing industries — these new technologies both radically expand the pervasiveness and impact of the digital realm and broaden technological disruption well beyond the boundaries of the digital world itself. Let’s cover each of these in further detail:

a) Broadening technological disruption beyond the digital world: This is the shift from a disruption in what are for most industries adjacent segments (market monitoring, communication, marketing, etc.) into the core underlying activities of almost any conceivable industry (say raw materials, production, distribution, etc). The next industrial revolution, that is, will not necessarily arrive on the wings of new apps, platforms and gadgets, but through new base technologies that affect the very foundations upon which these industries are based. These are new energy sources, new construction methods, new forms of diagnosis and new raw materials; Technologies that are coming to be known as Deep-Tech (a.k.a. Transformative Technologies or — in their gestation phase — “Frontier” Technologies). According to a report from BCG and Hello Tomorrow, Deep-Tech innovations are “built around unique, protected or hard-to-reproduce technological or scientific advances” that promise to reinvent industries. If you picked up a similarity with economic moats, you are spot on. Today, a line-up of bold startups and investors are bent on answering the biggest global demands with frontier technology and scientific breakthroughs, and in doing so are expanding technical disruption well into que borders of traditional industries.

 
The increase in frontier technology investment. Source: CBInsights


b) Expanding the pervasiveness and impact of the digital realm: 
The next major shift is caused by the integration of physical and digital components into what are now known as Cyber-physical systems, and the imbedding of these components with automation and artificial intelligence — a process known as Cognification. As sensors become ever more integrated into physical objects and connected to artificial intelligence, physical processes will be both controlled and monitored by algorithms and will themselves feed and improve these systems… and software will truly eat the world.

To understand the potential impact of such a change, imagine that if even “a very tiny amount of useful intelligence embedded into an existing process boosts its effectiveness into a whole other level” as Kevin Kelly explains “the advantages gained by cognifying inner things would be hundreds of times more disruptive in our lives than the transformations gained by industrialization”. As IoT technologies connect tens of billions of new objects to the internetMoore’s Law continues accelerating computational intelligence, and technologies like Blockchain streamline the process of validation and authentication, we are seeing the emergence of both autonomous cyber-physical systems and autonomous cyber systems, including smart contractsdecentralized autonomous organizations and autonomous investment management (cyber systems) and smart grids, autonomous transport systems, medical monitoring systems and robotics systems (cyber-physical systems), amongst many, many others. Though it is perhaps subject for another post, the extent to which such changes will jeopardise the employment of hundreds of thousands of junior lawyers, mid-managers, drivers and the likes, and the effect this will have on our society should not be take lightly.

Tech-smoothie, anyone? — Having mentioned the pervasiveness, speed, nature and sheer power of these innovations, we must then acknowledge what is perhaps the most intimidating trait yet of these new developments: their synergy. ICT Technologies have not only transformed traditional markets into what they are today but been mixed and matched to create entire new industries like social media, search engines and peer-to-peer platforms.

 
Mark Mawson’s renowned Aqueous works beautifully represent the mix and match of colours, and new technologies

 

In much the same way, these new base technologies will both enhance information and communication technologies — to put it mildly — and be themselves infused to create as yet unimaginable solutions to current market demands, and unimaginable new markets. To give one example of change, if distributed ledger technologies like blockchain now allow for a radical reduction of overhead traditionally associated with risk and background checks and a potential for deep disruption in the banking, accounting and legal markets, its further integration with IoT and AI and the implementation of so-called smart contracts promises a revolution in supply chain, insurance, procurement and logistics markets, among others. As an example of new markets, imagine the possibilities opened up by the virtual world tourism, or the series of low-orbiting satellites (LOS) which will soon offer real time video streaming (and analytics) of the planet’s entire surface.

Many forward thinkers predicted the web, but Google, Facebook and Uber were not quite as evident. We usually have a hard time thinking just one step beyond the possibilities opened by new base technologies, so buckle up for the next 2 to 5 years; and the rate of technological evolution will only accelerate from there.

Wagging the dog — Finally, we must acknowledge the ripple effects of these new technologies and new solutions on the ecosystem itself. How do these innovations affect our social, governmental and organizational structures and our individual mindset? Already today peer to peer platforms are shifting sizable chunks of economic activity away from institutions and into organised cyber communities who now supply themselves with an array of services, from hospitality to transportation, from rental to banking services, not to mention direct information, reviews, products, promotion, freelance specialized services and funding; a movement prof Arun Sundararajan form Stern School of Business calls crowd-base capitalism. And institutions are themselves undergoing structural changes, with new communication channels, corporate horizontalization and hiring of outside talent. All this essential through peer-to-peer (and social media) which are in turn a mixture of internet, PC/mobile and cloud computing technology. Now imagine the new spectrum of possibilities opened by the growing list of aforementioned base technologies.

 
Ruined by waves. Bordj El Berod fort in Essaouira, Morocco. Source: John and Lisa Merrill

 

If it was once safe to steer clear of technological disruption and focus instead on business as usual, the next waves of innovation will be sure to bring down the castle walls, and to blur the boundaries between the digital world and “real” world. And since disruptive technology is set to invade traditional industries whether they are ready for it or not, organisations planning to survive and excel would do well to be prepared. One can either surf the wave, or be wipe out by it.

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The Consequence

Of course most big players have a lot going for them. Service contracts, strategic partnerships, access to capital, strong brands and even customer purchasing habits. These are all powerful buffers between their leading positions and this ocean of bold startups searching for a place in the sun, and serve for buying time if and when they need to readapt to a successful disruption in their niche. With a time buffer, with capital, and market know-how, these players should be able to readapt to the coming market changes.

That’s all well and good, except that breakthrough products based on disruptive technologies aren’t simple plug and play solutions, and corporate processes, values and resources are not always in line with what these new technologies demand. In fact they are very often diametrically opposed, and the time it takes to readjust these traits, to readapt corporate strategies and employee training accordingly, is counted in years — typically 5 years or more — by which time slots for market share leadership have long been filled up.

Not as majestic out of its environment. Corporate Processes, Values and Resources are often diametrically opposed to what is required to operate with New Technologies. Image source

 

To take just one example, consider the effect of the market’s growing speed of change on process efficiency and economy of scale. When the creation of disruptive products happened in decades, it was secondary to process efficiency. This strategic focus in efficiency defined in tern a series of requirements (and massive investments) in the control of resources, massive workforce, channels, assets and property. Yet as technology accelerates market change and decreases product lifetime cycle, the role of creating new products, aligned to what clients want, becomes ever more important. Efficiency — “creating something the right way” — gradually begins to lose strategic importance in face of efficacy — “creating the right thing”. And as agility and adaptability gradually grow in importance, the size, scale, staff, training and processes that had always been strength begins to take its toll.

 

The Tools

Once a market has been disrupted by exponential technology, operating in this new ecosystem often required profound shifts in both external and internal attributes of organizations who wish to keep-up with change. In order to compete with future full grown unicorns in their niche, they too must be able to leverage external resources, communities, consumers and partners in order to 10x their output capacity, to keep a “hand on the pulse” of their ecosystem and to foment the appropriate channels of creativity and growth in alignment with their own purpose. They must then develop the internal processes, control mechanisms and fluidity required to manage staff, data, new technologies, and to readapt their products accordingly.

There are today a multitude of organizational techniques and methodologies aimed at helping with both external and internal challenges. From agiledevelopment to purpose-driven learning, from design thinking to conscious innovation, not to mention a line of truly noteworthy methodologies, concepts and frameworks such as OKRsBusiness Model NavigatorHackaprothonHolacracy and Theory U, amongst others, each bringing essential elements to the process of innovation and management in a high speed ecosystem.

 

The Challenge

The challenge of course for big organizations is that many of these techniques, as powerful as they may be, are hard to put in practice. For one the sheer scale and complexity of large operations, with politics, bureaucracy, silos thinking and biases, to name a few obstacles, means even the greatest innovation solutions may seldom find channels through which to gain wind. More challenging still, truly disruptive innovation, as mentioned, must in fact disrupt. That is, it must in many cases substitute a long standing and successful modus operandis with solutions that are many times completely alien to the organization.

Organizations today have two barriers on the road to innovation. Learning and implementing the new technologies, and changing the Organization Itself.

 

Thus market leaders today may have much more infrastructure, know-how, strategic partnerships, customers and resources for innovation than startups, yet they have two challenges instead of one: first to break-free from existing organizational patterns to only then address new technologies and business models. To reinvent themselves and their market. To undertake both disruptive innovation and disruptive transformation. And if individual habits are hard to break, when solidified with collective large-scale processes, corporate values and workforce training, changing companies can be notoriously difficult.

 

The Forum

This is perhaps where TCS’s Innovation Forum was most insightful: in bridging the gap between theory and practice for innovation in large organizations, through three main avenues.

First, by showcasing how several big corporations are successfully making the transition to the digital era. Granted, many of these still addressed initial internal attributes (such as process efficiency) inside specific departments. Others have promising cases of external consumer-centric development, yet for the most part in peripheral improvements (like new user interface apps) as opposed to core-innovation in products and services (say using distributed ledger technology, or Deep-Tech). Still, the corporate cases presented in the Sao Paulo’s innovation Forum were crucial first steps towards innovation in deeper processes and products, and what at least yours truly found as convincing evidence that big players can not only readapt to disruptive technologies and methodologies, but share their teachings and collaborate with the market’s collective development. Corporate legacy need not be an impediment to innovation.

Second, having joined a number of traditional market giants to talk about innovation, TCS then presented the other side of the spectrum with a full-on disruptive solution; Urban 3D is a Singularity University alumni startup that personifies the cutting edge principles of so called Exponential Organizations, born from the vision of fully leveraging on cutting edge technology — in this case in the housing industry — and mobilizing partners and customers alike with its so called Massive Transformative Purpose. The presentation by Urban 3D’s CEO, Ms. Anielle Guedes, added an important dimension to the event with a demonstration of how future market leaders can — or must — align profit with social and environmental benefits, disruptive technology, and a greater sense of purpose. The Forum then included a presentation by Ronaldo Lemos, an influential next-generation board member of several organizations (including Mozilla) who helps with the transition into the digital era. Lemos is a renowned academic, lawyer and commentator on civil rights, technology and culture, and added a helpful contextualization of the latest tech trends.

Finally, there was TCS itself and the insights presented by the heads of the the organizations departments — including the group CTO, Latin America CEO, Brazil Country Head, Principal Innovation Evangelist and Chief Innovation Evangelist — and their respective innovation projects. I am a fan of the company, so take this with a grain of salt, but when compared to other traditional players TCS seems to be on another league altogether (an important condition for an organization who champions innovation). As a quick example, head tech representatives of some of Latin America’s biggest corporations present in the event boasted — deservedly so — of having implemented agile programming teams of a hundred strong; TCS has perhaps over one hundred thousand programmers working mostly with agile and a network of partnerships that joins many of the who-is-who in innovation, including Andreessen HorowitzMIT and Sequoia Capital, amongst others.

All in all, these three aspects of the Innovation Forum — traditional leaders, next generation leaders and TCS itself — brought a well balanced introduction on how to successfully transition into the digital era, and hopefully an idea of more to come with the groups’ Co-Innovation Network.

Up next: Let’s dive into the 7 key takeaways of guest participants.

0 In Expanding Human Potential

Rebooting Thomas Kuhn’s Paradigm Shift

Despite being perhaps the most used and abused term in contemporary discussions, an often overlooked point in Kuhn’s “paradigm shift” is likely the most valuable in today’s ecosystem of exponential technology.

Not to sound pompous, but its sad when the public gets their hands on a concept you love, such as “paradigm” and “paradigm shift”, dumbs it down and covers it with marketing sauce. Then folks that have spent about 1/10.000th of the required dedication to understand the nuances and profoundness of the original work proceed to abuse it until its almost devoid of content, and you are suddenly the grumpy puritan holding onto a utopia. Sometimes though, the cliché interpretation won’t suffice, so we’ll have to start here by rubbing the genie lamp and hopefully bringing a crucial concept of this expression back to life.

The term paradigm shift exploded into scene with science historian Thomas Kuhn’s 1962 book Structure of Scientific Revolutions, one of the most influential and uproarious books of the 20th century and possibly the most cited academic books of all time. In Structures, Kuhn illustrates the substitutional nature of scientific progress which moves, according to him, from paradigm to paradigm instead of the traditional view of a linear progression by accumulation of “theory-independent facts” (the view, that is, that older theories give way successively to more inclusive and accurate ones). Kuhn notes that while from the perspective of the observer inside a given paradigm, a “development-by-accumulation” of knowledge seems, correctly, to advance the accepted scientific hypothesis, from the perspective of a science historian studying a long enough time period, one cannot but notice a cyclical pattern where, time and again, even the most household scientific paradigms, alongside their publications, experiments and chieftains, are eventually substituted altogether. Needless to say, this enraged countless members of the scientific community, and most reviews and critics have focused understandably on this questioning of the irrefutability of scientific progress.

Yet this discussion by academics has not interfered with the basic concept of a paradigm change (nor its applicability in so many other fields) that with sufficient understanding by the public has escaped into mainstream and taken on a life of its own. However, with peers focused on the scrutiny of intellectual progress, the “paradigm” escaped without a core component, indeed without what could be considered the “second half” of the concept, which we’ll explore here.

The key difference on the use of the term “paradigm shift” by the mainstream public and by Kuhn is not, ironically, what it describes (i.e. the concept of a paradigm shift itself) but rather what it leaves out: the role of the surrounding context where the paradigm is inserted in changing the paradigm itself, and what this implies.

For example, many of the greatest scientific breakthroughs were proposed well before their time. Aristarchus anticipated the heliocentric model of the solar system in the 3rd century B.C., eighteen centuries before Copernicus, theories of combustion by absorption from the atmosphere were proposed in the 17th century by Rey, Hooke and Mayow, well before Lavoisier’s revolutionary papers, as were 18th and 19th century propositions for a relativistic conception of space, before Einstein. Yet in each case, the historical setting of their time and the precision of their instruments (or lack of) did not require a new paradigm; as Kuhn notes, there were no needs that their insights might have fulfilled, and these ideas were neglected, buried in time until the moment had arrived for their renaissance. In short, it is the external environment that gives context to, and permission for, the growth and fruition of a new worldview.

The implication? First, if our mindset and instruments are the filters through which we allow new paradigms to emerge — and with them the discoveries and innovation they bring — then by logic there’s an entire universe of unimaginable possibilities of which we explore only a fraction. Take science itself, the most “impartial” and empiric of fields: As Kuhn explains, we first select what experiments should be made and appropriate measuring tools built, we delimit what gamut of the results will be analyses, we then define which results inside this spectrum are acceptable inside the standing scientific theories and which will be followed-up with further investigation; everything else is essentially discarded. Yet scientific history is filled with groundbreaking discoveries, Oxygen, X-Rays and nuclear Uranium fission to name a few, made especially difficult to recognize precisely because those who “knew” what to expect chose tests aimed at the wrong elements, and the breakthroughs that did eventually take place happened only because some audacious individual decided to look through a radically different perspective. As F. Duncan Haldane, the 2016 Physics Nobel Prize co-winnerfor his discoveries on exotic properties of matter said ”If you can’t imagine something marvelous, you’re not going to find it… The barrier to discovering what can be done is actually imagination”. The exact same can be said of technology and business today, as we shall explore in our next posts.

Second, if there is a connection between the current paradigm and the context where it is inserted, them the more this ecosystem changes, the higher the pressure on the traditional paradigm. What may have seemed appropriate in one environment becomes increasingly out of context in a radically new ecosystem. Thus both the creation of tools, such as the telescope and the internet, and the fruition of new postures and ideologies, such as environmental awareness and social responsibility, are key aspects of the changes in standing paradigms.

 

Foto by Kit — Flikr — Pressure

The irony, if I may? No matter how many times the cycle is repeated, every moment of history, including the one we are in now, has its incumbent organizations serving as “paradigm gatekeepers”, convinced that their perspective, their paradigm, is the “one true God” and the best (or only) solution to the challenge at hand. Furthermore, we as a society seem to be as defiant to changes in paradigms as we are oblivious to our previous inflexibility once the paradigm has finally changed; Once convinced otherwise, we proceed to act as if we’d never been wrong. Or as Max Planckfamously put it: “All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed; Second, it is violently opposed; and Third, it is accepted as self-evident.” In our stubbornness to recognize our previous misconception, in our lack of humbleness, if you will, we quickly conclude that whatever paradigm now stands should be set in stone. This behavior holds us back form letting go once a new vision is required, and from gaining the fluidity necessary to operate in an environment of constant change. And change, today more than ever, seems to be the only constant.

Finally, the challenge: As if changing beliefs were not hard enough, this is far from a purely intellectual discussion. With time, individuals, organizations and with them entire societies become heavily vested in the existing paradigm. Full lines of products and services, of studies, indeed entire carriers and entire industries are founded on the principles of a given paradigm, as we shall study ahead. Much like the Catholic Church was vested towards a geocentric vision of the universe before the renaissance, current organizations are conferred to given rules of conduct and (perhaps most seriously) heavily vested financially in the current state of affairs.

Hence it is understandable that, as with in any early stages of such a shift — before the new world vision sets in — resistance from incumbents can be expected to be high. In fact, it can be expected to never lower until they are extinct. As Ervin Laszlo describes in an explanation about systems theory: “every time you have a systemic change, the change comes from the periphery…. the center doesn’t change, the center dies out… as long as it can maintain itself, it will try to do so, but when you get to a critical point, change is very fast.”. Unfortunately for incumbents, the change ahead is not just fast, its exponential.

Singularity University‘s Salim Ismail in his book Exponential Organizationsdefines the concept of a Iridium Moment (named after Motorola’s failed investments in a satellite project of the same name) as a crucial strategic decision based on the wrong assumptions, and elaborates further: “By ironic coincidence, the extinction of the dinosaurs was revealed by an Iridium layer in rock formations; this time around, the destructive agent is an Information Comet. What if we are having another, collective Iridium Moment? One that doesn’t just involve a single giant corporation that has failed to recognise the revolutionary nature of technological change taking place around it, but an whole species — indeed the dominant species — of large corporations in the modern economy. What if they are all facing the same fate as Iridium?

The future will tell how much these organizations will adjust to an environment of accelerated innovation. Yet the same changes that are threats to some are opportunities to others. So much depends on how willing we are to proactively embrace these current changes and their corresponding mindset; a subject we’ll explore further in our next posts!

0 In Expanding Human Potential

The Good Side of Ruthless Competition from Global Freelancers and Robo sapiens

A disruptive technological revolution is coming to life through our very hands whether we want it or not. Here’s how we protect ourselves and why this is a good thing.

Apparently I’m going to lose my job to some algorithm soon, or a robot, or a new hybrid cloud big data neural network self-learning machine. And not to worry in case Frankenstein comes a bit overdue, there is always some on-demand contractor nearby anxious to get the job done, and just in case a few extra international freelance platforms adding millions of hungry competitors in developing markets who are willing to do the task at a fraction of the cost, and that’s without weighing in the exchange rate. This of course considering my whole industry won’t be engulfed altogether by some new startup, so I can also rest assured my employer is frantically on the lookout for the first opportunity to complete my task at a lower cost. Now if by some miracle I survive all these obstacles, the skillset taught by my expensive graduate education will apparently be applicable for another 10 seconds. So I have to start learning again, non stop, forever.

Its like that scene from Star Wars where Han Solo, Luke and Leia are stuck in the Death Star’s Trash Compactor with an invisible monster lurking in debris-filled waters and we never know from where it will strike. We never know for sure which industry or profession will be swallowed up next. And oh yes, the walls are closing in; either my sluggishness or someone else’s hyper speed will soon make me obsolete.

So my 9 to 5 profession, which guaranteed my paycheck and gave me peace of mind and time to enjoy the rest of my life, is on serious quicksand, whatever skillset I have today will be outmoded in this new ecosystem creeping up, where I basically compete against the world. How on earth is this supposed to be a good thing?

Here’s how:

Talent Quest —Whether or not you have a spiritual inclination to believe you came to earth for a reason, the truth is you do have a given set of characteristics, be them talent, genes or brain wiring, that would allow you to do a specific task in a unique way at a far greater speed and quality than practically anyone else. And now you have to find it. If you think that is a bold statement, or a cheap motivational tag line softening you up for an infoproduct sales pitch, you are likely thinking in black and white as we so often do, when our true talents are hidden in the shades of grey.

All too often we discard our personal traits in order to fit into work slots created by third parties. With very few exceptions, this structure by definition undermines our full potential, and so much of what we could bring to the worldwide conversation stays dormant. Yet somewhere at the intersection of our natural talents, our passions and our experiences is a unique blend of attributes which, if we find a way to cash-in on, brings us a blue ocean of possibilities. Many people love cats, but how may people love cats and are tech-savvy and super funny? How many mathematicians are also great storytellers and love kids? How many accountants played chess and developed strategic thinking at a young age and live in Budapest and speak english? In this exclusive intersection, your uniqueness shines through, and the more you learn to capitalize on your exceptionality, the less competition you have.

Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired magazine, explains on an interviewhow he checks-in on his productivity: “I ask myself if what I’m doing could be done by someone else. If it could, I’m wasting my time”. Until now we have all had the luxury of not asking this question, but it seems like the future towards which we are heading is one in which more people will have to do just that, and that is a good thing for the diversity of the economy and for us as individuals, as we shall see next.

Finding Fulfillment — I recently sat with my laptop by the beach when a girl stopped on her bicycle and asked if I had a wifi connection. We talked and she ended up telling me how she used to be a lawyer but gave up everything to travel the world by bike and live from writing (which she does). She said the hardest part was convincing her father:

“What do you mean you are going to quit? You have a great carrier, a great salary and a great position at a great law firm, what more do you want from life?”.

“Um, dad, I want to be happy”.

She’s not alone. After a few post world-war generations, diligently and wholeheartedly dedicated to success, many people are realizing that professional and financial accomplishment, though important, by no means equates to personal fulfillment.

Now here is the interesting part: Our natural callings and inclinations are a great compass for what will bring us fulfillment, for putting us on a path where we feel we are living our full potential and, in the process, for activating the ingredients of success. It’s the drive you have deep inside; its that common theme behind your favorite books, sites, documentaries, posts and conversations with friends. Its the reason which would keep you up from 7pm to 2am to get the ball rolling, to continue learning and evolving at the speed required in face of global competition, and its what activates what Paul Graham from Y Combinator calls the key ingredient for entrepreneurial success: Persistence. The path to fulfillment brings the motivation for endless persistence, for eventual success and, ultimately, for happiness.

Buckle-up for Natural Selection. Meritocracy is only bad for who is profiting from inefficiency. If you can get the job done better that anyone or anything (creepy) then you have a lot less to worry about. And the same changes that are tearing down market entry barriers are bringing the tools of person empowerment and environment meritocracy. You don’t have your comfort job anymore, but by George you have an endless array of possibilities to crush it with your talents and true interests. Whatever that may be, you can now start building some form of business around it. Create related products, broker or sell related products, create content, interview practitioners, trainers or authors, create a YouTube channel, make an app, start a course for kids, start coaching, start networking, find a team of complementary professionals that need your help, start a crowdfunding campaign, build a like-minded community, start generating leads, start mixing and mashing your previous know-how with this new subject, the list is endless, but make the move and chances are you will do this with more passion, more drive, more efficiency and better that any job you’ve have before.

So as the ponds of comfort are melting into one common ocean of transparency and meritocracy everyone is swimming in open waters. What do we do then? We do as they do in nature: we specialize, keep our heads up, and get to work, and that’s a good thing.

Adding Value to the Ecosystem. The first great leap of evolution in our planet happened when single-celled organisms started to collaborate and complement one another, each bringing their best specialization to the “community”. Some cells digested better than others, some had better movement skills, sensory skills, transport skills and the likes, and they started working in symbioses with other cells in a community which eventually led to multi-cellular organisms. Fast forward about 550 million years and we have human beings made up of perhaps 40 trillion complementary cells or more. Now we’ve created a global network with devices which should soon connect everyone on earth (admittedly with challenges) and we too start to complement each other in an amazing array of possibilities.

Here’s what’s cool about that: in an interconnected system, your value lies on your contribution. Try removing your liver cells, or hemoglobin, or collagen fibers or muscle cells, nerves, endocrine cells, you name it. Every kind of cell and organ has a critical role in the whole, they have added value to their ecosystem to the point where they have become indispensable, and only by doing so will they remain indispensable. The more value you add, the more crucial you become. As Tim O’Reilly observes, capturing more value than you create (the win-lose approach of old school capitalism) is unsustainable in the long run.

Automation-Proof Skill Sets — Technology has for decades already stagnated the worldwide number of jobs in manual routine work and cognitive routine work. Now machine learning, big data, neural networks and robotics is allowing for the automation of non-routine manual and cognitive work. In other words, we are seeing the rise of autonomous software agents which will increasingly be able to perform decision making, managerial, diagnostic, creative and chirurgical processes, amongst other, better than humans. If we are to protect ourselves in a world where machines can substitute more and more of our work, we’ll need to develop skillsets that are less subjective to automation. What can’t computers do? What is it hardest to automate? Right off the bat we’re going to have to become less habitual, routine-like, less reactionary, and more authentic, creative and unbiased. We’ll have to develop our subjective human qualities of empathy, compassion, emotional intelligence, systemic intelligence and spiritual intelligence (finding meaning and purpose) – precisely the human qualities that are hardest to automate. This is why teachings like meditation, mindfulness and self-development are on the rise and will likely continue to grow: they stimulate precisely the qualities that give us the speed and fluidity necessary to operate in a high speed, hyper-connected environment. They also happen to bring out the best in us, inciting what is called our “higher self” as opposed to the frenetic, disequilibrated, negative lower selfthat so often takes over, and that’s a good thing.

In the preface to his book Things That Make us Smart — Defending Human Attributes in the Age of Machine, Don Norman observes how:

“Society has unwittingly fallen into a machine-centered orientation to life, one that… compares people to machines and finds us wanting, incapable of precise, repetitive, accurate actions. Although this is a natural comparison, and one that pervades society, it is also a most inappropriate view of people. It emphasizes tasks and activities that we should not be performing and ignores our primary skills and attributes — activities that are done poorly, if at all, by machines… The result is continuing estrangement between humans and machines, continuing and growing frustration with technology and with the pace and stress of a technologically centered life. It doesn’t have to be this way”

Indeed it doesn’t, yet we have been able to avoid the issue for as long as machine performance was safely sub-par with humans for the majority of jobs, and our competitors were oceans away. But as we reach this critical inflection point in the homo vs robo sapien relationship and a global meritocratic competitive economy, we have to identify and incite what makes us human and what makes us unique, and that’s a very good thing.

 
0 In New World View

Monkey Kingdom

Walt Disney’s Monkey Kingdom

On a recent international night flight I watched Monkey Kingdom, a documentary about a tribe of Monkeys (toque macaques) living amongst breathtaking ancient ruins in the jungles of Sri Lanka. The photography and story alone are well worth the watch, but what struck me were the deeper takeaways hidden in the movie, about a distant cousin of theirs, crossing the Atlantic at 30 thousand feet.

Monkeys are notoriously hierarchical, and the amount of attention, respect, care, preference, and how much one can get away with, is directly related to their social status. In fact at the center of the “kingdom” lies a huge fig tree which is the picture-perfect metaphor of hierarchy: The tribe nobility eats at the very top with the freshest fruit, and the social rank of monkeys on the tree descends in lockstep with the height of branches (and apparently the quality of fruit) until, scraping whatever falls on the floor and not even allowed on the tree, is Maya, the main character of the story.

The documentary then takes us through the story and struggles (to put it lightly) of this monkey, and for the purpose of not spoiling the story that’s all I’ll reveal. But one thing immediately becomes clear: If you are a monkey, you want to be at the upper rank of society, and if you’re at the top, you want to do all it takes to stay there. You may have noticed where I’m heading here but allow me to spell it out: The similarities between monkeys and man are shocking. Its like pushing down our politically-correct good Samaritan curtain on the surface and looking in the mirror.

I’ve never heard it said better that by philosopher Alain de Button on in his Ted talk: “You encounter someone within minutes at a party, where you get asked that famous iconic question of the early 21rst century: “What do you do?”, and according to how you answer that question people are either delighted to see you or look at their watch and make their excuses… Most people make strict correlations between how much time and, if you like, love… respect they are willing to accord us, that will be strictly defined by our position in the social hierarchy. And that’s a lot of the reason why we care so much about our carriers, and indeed start caring about material goods”. It’s little wonder we strive so diligently to “make it” in society. We want to be respected and valued by our community; we want to be accepted on the tree, and stay there once we are in.

But here’s one small detail: Humans are not monkeys. We are gifted with an amazing intellect, consciousness, self-reflection, that is clearly more developed. So it would only make sense that, if not immediately, at least once we’ve found our place in society, we transcend our animal-level battle for survival and self-aggrandizement. The irony is, we don’t. As Michael Singer – bestselling author and CEO of a billion-dollar software public company observed on James Altucher’s podcast: “Maslow talked about the hierarchy of needs …well many of us – and this is fortunate and not true of everybody – don’t have to struggle with the basic things every day, and that allows for an opening; most people don’t take that opening, they just become neurotic about something else. Its almost like the physical needs in staying alive got shifted over to the ego; I have a self-concept about how I want people to think of me and how successful I am and so on, now I have to protect that, I have to figure out how to feed that, so its like survival got moved to the psyche”.

That’s not to say this is a rule. Our history and current world is filled with people who have completely surpassed their personal issues of security and self-esteem, and dove into self-actualization and a true mission to help the people and world around them, but these are generally exceptions. The irony is that – as if being successful wasn’t challenging enough – by and large even those who make it are still stuck in the “monkey-race.”

The levels of Maslow’s pyramid (Physiological, Safety and Security, Love and Belonging, Self-esteem, Self-actualization) follow a gradual evolution from the fundamental animal-like survival to the higher-minded stages of being; from fear-based incentive to purpose-based motivation and fulfillment. This has a surprising similarity with the 7 chakras in Yoga, which gradually raise to more “sophisticated” qualities further developed in humans than animals – starting (simplistically) at Root/Survival, then Sacral/Sex, Solar Plexus/Power, Heart/Love, to Throat/Expression, 3rd eye/Perception, and finally Crown/Spirituality. Other examples used today by life coaches, self help authors and spiritualists use a similar progression.

It seems like we have reached a new threshold of challenge. During our evolution we first had to conquer the physical realm, survival, dominance over other species; then came sociological challenges, to transact with other people and organizations and to be “successful” in society; the next challenge is to conquer our minds. As we “make it”, humans have a unique choice of releasing the primal fear-based needs and transcending into a more purposeful life, one with higher emotional intelligence, big picture thinking, spiritual intelligence, compassion and authenticity. Yet our minds and thoughts serve as gatekeepers.

So many of us have completely dominated the financial and societal realm, yet our mindset remains helplessly stuck in the primal-level “chakras”, we simply transfer these animalistic apprehensions – recognition, greed, power – to our relationships, to our goals and expectations, where they follow us into our lives even well after we are financially successful. In fact it seems that with success and power comes an even greater risk of getting stuck in this egocentric mindset, in this battle in defense of our self-image, net-worth and domination over our surroundings. Meanwhile our inherited stress mechanism – developed during millennia for fight-or-flight purposes – is now chronically switched on, and our thoughts, energy and health, constantly consumed.

During which while the torque macaques, even after actual life and death challenges of hunting, escaping predators and battling rival tribes, now lay in the branches of their fig tree, dancing in the wind, and I can’t help but wonder who enjoys life the most.

0 In Tranformative Forces

Why Am I Here Inc.

There is little doubt the rules are changing in the business world, and the changes won’t get any slower. The average lifespan of a company listed in the S&P 500 has decreased from 67 years in the 1920s to just 15 years today according to Professor Richard Foster from Yale University, who further estimates that by 2020 more than three quarters of the list will be organizations who’s name we’ve never heard of. And it’s not like these new actors are playing by the rules, in fact is seems that what determines how much of a threat they are to current frontrunners is precisely how fast they can hack the system. Yet disruption is no news to our planet, in fact it has been around for quite some time, and past examples can bring valuable insights into current events.

Land plants had existed for 370 million years of head to head competition, with winners procreating and losers going extinct, until the creation of the petal flower reproduction system, some 100 million years ago. This ingenious innovation not only began using the existing network of insects for its own benefit, but managed to send the flying workers directly to specialized drop-spots which carried their reproductive organs, the flowers – a change that hacked the procreation competition system which depended until then on random and much less efficient pollination by wind. Needless to say, this catapulted all descendants of these first few flowering plants to the top of the game. Today, over 90% of plant species in the world are flowering plants.

This is how, by and large, innovation takes place. New players reshuffle the pieces of the environment to their advantage, and create new solutions that propel them to the top of the chain. The top performers then go on to the reshape their very landscape, strengthening their role in the ecosystem and increasing the dependency of (or interdependency with) third parties. The interaction between insects and flowering plants shaped the development of both groups – a process called coevolution – in an explosion of both insects and flowers during the Mid-Cretateous Period towards the end of the Mesozoic Era.

Today, Google’s dominance is a reflection of just how crucial its role has become for so many companies (and consumers) in a market which it has helped create. The same can be said of Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and other tech titans, as well as, in their respective niches, of Uber, Airbnb, Shopify, Spotify as well as many smaller organizations (and entrepreneurs), where the race is on for who can add more value for the most amount of people. This mixture of exponential technology, lowering market entry barriers and value-driven differentiation has sparked an insurgence of new companies and solutions thirsty to show their valor.

The effect of this revolution is staggering. As if new players reordering their respective segments and reshaping customer habits was not enough, further techno-scientific advancement in the fields of medicine, IoT, 3D printing, nanotechnology, AI, synthetic biology, renewable energy and sheer connectivity, amongst so many others, are each collaborating with massive inflections. And since these are riding on the back of technology, they follow exponential development curves which are almost all about to enter their vertical tipping point. As noted by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, authors of Abundance – The Future Is Better Than You Think, in 7 years the average laptop will make 100 billion processes per second, which is the speed of the human brain, in another 15 this should reach 10^17, or the speed of all human brains put together. And where biology evolves at linear rates, technological development is exponential. It would be as if plants and animals now had to readapt not only to, say, a change in forest temperature, but also in rain, soil, sunlight, humidity, predators, invasion of competing species and whatever new factor could be created by mixing these elements.

So how are these new breeds playing the game? What is the common thread between the players that are reshaping the market, and what distinguishes the old-school from new-school mindset? Pay close attention to enough of these players and two common traits begin to appear.

First, they have realized that as consumers become empowered, we shift form an era of perceived value, inflated by propaganda, to actual value. These new mindset players carry a legitimate mission of helping their customers; profit now becomes a by-product of added value instead of a means in and of itself. This one slight shift in capitalism’s core axis brings a fundamental change. As observed by Raj Sisodia and John Mackey in Conscious Capitalism, what we have been living with until now is not really capitalism, but a form of crawny capitalism. Essentially, the game has been rigged by outside factors such as monopoly, service contracts, government grants, mass media marketing, misinformation and other such forces that directly intervene with customer choice, freedom, and ultimate satisfaction. Yet today, as technology allows for intelligent products (like Sonos’ speakers that “listen” and tune themselves to their environment’s acoustics) and massive consumer choice, voice, and ultimate empowerment, the traditional formula for inflating perceived value is quickly losing ground.

Second, these players have anchored their value proposition to a deeper sense or purpose. After all if the elements of the environment around us are shifting at exponential rates, the only underlying constant left to hold on to is our mission.  Where a drugstore for example could previously define itself simply as an organization that sells drugs, in a new environment with epigenetics, LOC technology, mobile diagnostics, drone deliver and the growth of holistic medicine, amongst others, the very nature of medical treatment is changing, thus a deeper and more meaningful mission must permeate and direct the companies’ actions, say “to help people be healthy”. This allows for fluidity and quick readaptation to the changing environment without losing sight of the companies’ overarching role in its ecosystem.

It is said that earth has been through five major mass extinctions, each bringing a radical change in the diversity of organisms. The most recent, the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction approximately 66 million years ago, caused the extinction of the dinosaurs and allowed for mammals to emerge as the dominant large land animals. Sad as it may be for the dying species, extinction is evolution’s concubine. Now this “tech-driven meteor” hitting earth will bring titanic forces of its own. Scary as it may be, with consumer empowerment and true-value driving this evolution, it will be interesting to see what new species emerge.