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Ideas are the Only Currency in the New Economy

The End of the Middle Class

February 23rd, 2012 · Ideas

Big Ideas:

  • Technology is leading to more automation and outsourcing of work, increasing rates of unemployment are the inevitable result.
  • The middle class is bearing the brunt of these job losses.
  • Developed societies must change their fundamental social pact to cope with massively higher rates of structural unemployment.

We are automating, outsourcing, crowdsourcing and off-shoring more work than ever. It is not going to stop. After World War II, middle class families enjoyed fantastic improvements in their living standards. Great jobs in manufacturing, service and later technology industries brought comfortable incomes and low cost products to purchase. Life was good. Those times are over.

Here is an excerpt of what Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times:

Why now? It starts with the fact that globalization and the information technology revolution have gone to a whole new level. Thanks to cloud computing, robotics, 3G wireless connectivity, Skype, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, the iPad, and cheap Internet-enabled smartphones, the world has gone from connected to hyper-connected.

This is the single most important trend in the world today. And it is a critical reason why, to get into the middle class now, you have to study harder, work smarter and adapt quicker than ever before. All this technology and globalization are eliminating more and more “routine” work — the sort of work that once sustained a lot of middle-class lifestyles.

The merger of globalization and I.T. is driving huge productivity gains, especially in recessionary times, where employers are finding it easier, cheaper and more necessary than ever to replace labor with machines, computers, robots and talented foreign workers. It used to be that only cheap foreign manual labor was easily available; now cheap foreign genius is easily available. This explains why corporations are getting richer and middle-skilled workers poorer. Good jobs do exist, but they require more education or technical skills. Unemployment today still remains relatively low for people with college degrees. But to get one of those degrees and to leverage it for a good job requires everyone to raise their game. It’s hard.

Jeremy Rifkin predicted the End of Work back in 1995 with his book of the same name. The Wikipedia page offers this summary:

Worldwide unemployment would increase as information technology eliminates tens of millions of jobs in the manufacturing, agricultural and service sectors. He traced the devastating impact of automation on blue-collar, retail and wholesale employees. While a small elite of corporate managers and knowledge workers reap the benefits of the high-tech world economy, the American middle class continues to shrink and the workplace becomes ever more stressful.

Economies are thought to be in devastating depressions when unemployment approaches ten percent, what will happen once we reach structural unemployment of 15 or even 25%? Rifkin showed that it happened to farm workers with the productivity improvements of the agricultural revolution. It happened in Detroit, with the decimation of the automobile industry. Where are jobs going to come from in the future?

Economists and politicians will naturally focus on job growth. After all, that is the problem, unemployment getting higher so we must need more jobs. What if the Friedmans and Rifkins are right and high unemployment is here to stay? Perhaps it is time to start asking ourselves different questions.

Some of those questions might be:

Is unimpeded economic growth good for civilization?
Why do we need to keep growing GDP at 2 or 3% per year to be successful. We are polluting our air, contaminating our water supply, killing wildlife, and countless other problems. Maybe growth at all costs, is no longer the ultimate goal?

Why do we need to work 40 plus hours a week?
With less consumption, individuals can start cutting back on work hours. Perhaps we all shift to a 25 or 30 hour work week? France has led the way with a 35 hour work week.

How do we limit social unrest when potential a quarter of the population will be unemployed?
Are access to adequate food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care only for the privileged classes, or are these basic human rights that government must provide to all. Northern European countries  have been doing a pretty decent job of taking care of all of their citizens, maybe it is time the US followed suit.

How do we pay for social services?
Jeremy Rifkin says that non-profits and volunteers will start filling the gap where government fails. Perhaps the time is coming for a mass renaissance of civic and community engagement?

What do we do with the freed up time from lower hour work weeks and higher employment?
We could watch TV, we can commit crimes, or we can get involved in our communities and government. What does it mean to be a citizen anyway? Is it about working 40 hours a week and spending as much money as we can to keep the economy growing? Could it be possible that a good citizen volunteers in their community and connects with their neighbors?

It is not all bad news

The smartest and highest skilled in society will always be in demand. We will need more doctors, computer programmers, engineers and countless other professionals for whom jobs are not even invented yet. However, the real winners will be the rising middle class of the developing world.

Those lost automobile jobs in the U.S. and Japan are being done by $500 per month Indians who are ecstatic about their rise in living standards. While factories like Apple’s FoxConn in China are suffering from worker suicides, there is no denying that conditions in the developing world are improving. $2 per hour might sound like slave wages to a westerner, but for many in the third world, it means food, shelter and an opportunity for a better life.

Action Items

  • Financial rewards will flow to the highest skilled and most connected. What are you doing to increase your value in the Idea Economy of the future?
  • Could you survive on a 20 hour work week at your current salary? What would you have to give up?
  • Why not start making those consumption sacrifices now and save your salary surplus for the future? Not only will you have much more savings, but you will also have the time to enjoy it.
  • Work can be more than making a salary. Start volunteering in your community and giving back. You might find that giving provides a greater reward than consuming.

 

 

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Forget Collaboration – Individuals are More Creative than Groups

February 6th, 2012 · Collaboration

Big Ideas:

  • Individuals perform better than groups in quantity and quality of ideas.
  • The larger the group, the more they are susceptible to group think.

Shared work environments and collaboration are all the rage, but are they helping or harming business creativity?

I have written recently about why collaboration fails, but it turns out we may actually be more creative individually than in groups. Here are a couple of quotes from the fascinating New York Times article, The Rise of the New Group Think.

 

Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic.

… decades of research show that individuals almost always perform better than groups in both quality and quantity, and group performance gets worse as group size increases. The “evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups,” wrote the organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham. “If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.”

Action Items

  • Give yourself and your employees quiet time alone with no interruptions to get complex work done or come up with new ideas.
  • Open concept offices can be great for collaboration, but also have quiet work spaces where staff can get away and think.
  • Forget your next group brainstorming session. Have people come up with ideas on their own and then present them all anonymously to the group  later.

 

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33 Social Entrepreneurs Who Make This World A Better Place

January 14th, 2012 · Entrepreneurship

Big Ideas:

  • Social Entrepreneurs focus on doing good in the world, not only profits.
  • IdeaMensch summarizes the work of 33 social entrepreneurs making a difference.

IdeaMensch has a great post providing examples of  33 social entrepreneurs. These social entrepreneurs are proof that talented individuals can indeed make a substantial difference to the world.

Some of my favourite examples are:

Emile Cureau and Rachel Cope are developing a charitable web app called LazyAngel that allows Internet users to fight child malnutrition for free.

Print a Forest, aims to plant 75 trees for every tree used for printing on paper.

Matt Flannery is the co-founder of Kiva, the original global microfinance platform. Kiva benefits low-income entrepreneurs by offering microloans from people like you and me.

Kendra Stitt Robins is the founder and executive director of Project Night Night, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing care packages for homeless and transient children living in shelters across the country.

Take a moment now to read about all the social entrepreneurs on IdeaMensch.

Action Items

  • Get some inspiration and read about the 33 social entrepreneurs.
  • Think about how you can shift your business or job to doing a little more good in the world?
  • Profits are not enough for a meaningful life, plan on how you are going to make a difference.

 

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Why Collaboration Often Fails and What to Do About It.

January 8th, 2012 · Collaboration

Big Ideas:

  • Collaboration and creativity are big buzz words now but most businesses don’t really know how to collaborate or be creative.
  • Collaborative efforts often produce mediocre results because ego gets in the way.
  • A great team can produce amazing results, but finding those team members is not an easy task.

There is no question that the Internet has changed the way we work and connect with others. From a few people working on a shared Google document to thousands contributing to projects like Wikipedia or Linux, we are collaborating in unprecedented ways. When it works, collaboration is synergistic and amazing. The problem is that too often, real, meaningful collaboration is thwarted by an ugly thing called people.

As much as we talk about creativity and collaboration, most people don’t really know what those things mean. We are all human, so egos get in the way. We want to own, control and dominate. It happens with children playing together, in office politics and in volunteer or non-profit settings. Too often, it is more important to be right than to do the right thing. That is where collaboration fails.

Intuitively, we understand the benefits of  co-working, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding or a great business team on our collaborative efforts, but most of us also have many negative experiences where team efforts get mired in bureaucracy and territorial silo building. It is pretty hard to create something amazing when team members are jockeying for control and recognition.

At least from my experiences, I believe that most businesses don’t understand collaboration. How many of your colleagues or customers are still emailing Word and Excel documents as attachments? If you are over 30 years old, chances are your business processes are still heavily influenced from the Microsoft dominated days of installed software more than two decades ago. The world is a different place now. There are plenty of examples of dynamic companies prospering even when the partners are global dispersed, but they are still the exception.

For real collaboration to work, many elements need to be in place:

  1. Trust. Great relationships take time to build. With the exception of old schoolmates or childhood friends, most of us don’t have those deep social connections anymore.
  2. Talent. Each person has to bring some unique skill to the team. Partnerships quickly fall apart when there is even the appearance of a less than equal contribution.
  3. Personality. There are some people you just can’t work with regardless of their skills. Finding people that you like AND are good is not easy.
  4. Shared vision. All members of the team have to be pulling in the same direction for the collaboration to be successful.
  5. Technological savvy. Everyone needs to buy into the tools to work together. There are talented geniuses who can seclude themselves from the rest of the world, but you need to embrace technology if you expect to really collaborate with a good team, regardless of where they are located.
  6. Communicate. Information hoarding is a remnant of the industrial age. Remove all bottlenecks to effective and direct communication. Social capital is more valuable than financial capital.

Collaboration is Still King

Amazing things can happen if you build the right team. The problem is that you have to sort through many less than optimal candidates on your way. It is all a numbers game, work with as many people as you can to find the right talent. Results will be mediocre most of the time, but every once in a while you will find that diamond in the rough. Do everything you can to work with the diamonds and throw the coal back in the ground for someone else to deal with.

Action Items

  • If you haven’t already, move your business to the cloud. Everything from shared documents, online workspaces, project management and customer relationship management software can be done much better online where everyone has access to the same information in real time.
  • Deliberately start and join new projects with new team members. The only way to find great people to work with is to work with a lot of people.
  • Get really good at something. Talented people are not going to want to work with you if you don’t bring anything to the table.
  • Personality counts. You need to play nice with others if you want them to stick around.
  • Great businesses are built on great processes. Get organized and anal about how you do business, communicate and serve your employees and customers. Creative breakthroughs do not come from some unorganized eureaka moment. Real innovation is systematic and deliberate, and almost always the result of hard work, rich collaborative efforts and insights from outside sources.

 

 

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Introductory Guide to Social Entrepreneurship

January 4th, 2012 · Social Good

Big Ideas:

  • Social Entrepreneurship is about focusing on making the world a better place, not just profit maximization.
  • Entrepreneurs have a choice of socially good versus socially destructive business activity. We are either part of the problem or part of the solution.

There are many ways to make a living. You could sell gourmet pet food to rich yuppies. You can market $97 get rich quick schemes on the Internet. You can  promote the latest abdominal exercise machine on TV promising 6-pack abs with only 5 minutes a day. Maybe you could start a cup cake business selling $5 sugar highs. There are far too many businesses that are a net drain on society, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

It is possible to do good AND earn a profit. Unfortunately, economics has put the goal of profit maximization above everything else. Imagine a world where businesses maximized social good instead. Profits are important, if you lose money for too long you will go out of business, but no one needs private jets, luxury yachts and $200,000 cars – levels of profits, particularly when so much of the world lacks basic access to food, health care and education.

It doesn’t necessarily follow that you have to forsake profits for social good either. What if you could get rich doing good in the world? Money can pervert incentives to create real societal value, but there are businesses prospering with a heavy social good focus. That is what social entrepreneurship is about, using entrepreneurial and business skills towards making the world a better place.

Social Entrepreneurship Links


Social Entrepreneurship on Wikipedia.

A social entrepreneur recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create and manage a venture to achieve social change (a social venture). While a business entrepreneur typically measures performance in profit and return, a social entrepreneur focuses on creating social capital. Thus, the main aim of social entrepreneurship is to further social and environmental goals.

Grameen Bank
Noble Peace Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus’s micro loan bank funding rural poor. One of the most famous examples of social entrepreneurship.

Social entrepreneurship on PBS.org.
Examples of social entrepreneurs, lesson plans for teachers, and many great links for further research.

Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at The Duke Fuqua School of Business.
Social entrepreneurship case studies, academic research and other resources.

Skoll Foundation
Leading social entrepreneurship foundation with over $250 million in funding for social entrepreneurs. Many examples of social entrepreneurs.

Ashoka.org
One of the largest and most famous organizations that invests in social entrepreneurs around the world.

Acumen Fund
Invests in entrepreneurial approaches to solving global poverty.

Umair Haque
Harvard Business School professor and leading thinker on the need for socially productive business and economic activity.

SocialEdge.org (A Skoll Foundation program.)
Great articles on social entrepreneurship and related topics.

Canadian Social Entrepreneurship Foundation
Provides funding, resources, and mentorship for social entrepreneurs under 40 years old in Canada.

Social Entrepreneurship on Alltop.com
Links to the latest posts from many leading social entrepreneurship blogs and websites.

GreenMarketing.tv
Articles, interviews with social entrepreneurs, marketing tutorials and more. Very comprehensive site.

School for Social Entrepreneurs
UK based training programs for social entrepreneurs.

Public Radio International Social Entrepreneurship Podcast

Social Innovation Conversations
Large selection of podcasts on social entrepreneurship.

Action Items

  • Ask yourself, is your business making the world a better place or are you selling toxic products and services that are a net drain to society and the environment?
  • If you are not happy with that first answer, what can you do to change it?
  • Read about social entrepreneurs in the links above to see what is possible if you put your mind to it. You might just make the world a little better place.

 

 

 

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What Happens When Average Lifespans hit 100 years old, or 150?

November 4th, 2011 · Ideas

Big Ideas

  • Average lifespans have been increasing for more than a century.
  • Science is on the verge of substantially increasing our longevity.
  • Aging is a disease and it can be slowed.
  • Increased lifespans are already altering our economies, this is only the beginning. [Read more →]

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Brilliant Marketing or Deceptive Advertising?

November 1st, 2011 · Ideas

Big Ideas

  • Subtle and creative advertising can be much more effective than in your face interruptions.
  • Hi-Tec demonstrates water-proof shoes that help you walk on water.

The Newest Sports Craze – Liquid Mountaineering – Walking on Water

[Read more →]

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Occupy Wall Street – Grows to a World Wide Protest

October 5th, 2011 · Collaboration

Big Ideas

  • Tens of thousands are now involved with the Occupy Wall Street Protests worldwide
  • Web based platforms facilitate the coordination of mass gatherings and protests around the world
  • With online collaboration tools, a single leader or clear plan are not required.

Occupy Wall Street

You have undoubtedly heard about the Occupy Wall Street protests that have been growing around the world. The short news snippets don’t really capture the magnitude of the movement. Protests are being scheduled in dozens of cities around the world and recently the Almalgamated Transit Union, with 190,000 members has given its support. This is a world wide phenomenon and it is growing quickly.

How Occupy Wall Street Started

The birth of the movement was a post on the Adbusters website on July 13th. Here is a small quote from that first call to action,

On September 17, we want to see 20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. Once there, we shall incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices.

The home page of OccupyWallSt.org describes the movement as,

Occupy Wall Street is leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.

Occupy Wall Street to Occupy the World

Another website, OccupyTogether, has since been created to coordinate some of the scheduled protests and other activities in dozens of cities around the world.

On Oct. 4th, the date of this post, there were more than 39,000 followers for the @OccupyWallSt Twitter account, with many thousands more for city focused protests around the world. (@OccupyChicago – 7000, @OccupyLA – 5000, @Occupy_Boston – 3500, @OccupyToronto – 1600, @OccupyTokyo – 400, with many more for every major city on the planet.)

Lessons in Collaboration

We have learned from the middle east uprisings this spring that leaderless movements have the power to topple governments and really change the world.  Occupy Wall Street is no different. There is no central organization or leader directing the movement,  participants are connecting and coordinating with widely available web based platforms . There are groups like MoveOn.org, that are trying to co-opt the protests, but for the most part, it is a largely ego-less and egalitarian process. Even the demands of OccupyWallStreet.org have been community driven.

The Future of Collaboration

Whether you support the protests or not, there are many principles here to learn from. With the internet, and social media in particular, ordinary citizens can coordinate and mobilize on a large scale. Time, money and central leadership are no longer necessary for massive collaboration.

Consider some of these implications.

  • Motivating and involving a dispersed volunteer effort is starkly different than an employer – employee relationship. Try motivating people to take action without paying them.
  • A vision to do good in the world is far more powerful than any monetary reward. Is your company making the world a better place?
  • Large groups of people can be mobilized without central control or authority. What could your employees accomplish if given the freedom?
  • Democratic and egalitarian processes can formulate a unified vision. Direction doesn’t have to come from the boss. Give your employees the information and freedom to direct their own future.
  • Self-interests and ego gratification only serve to derail the process. Let the cause or vision be the focus, not a rock star executive.

Action Items

  • For your next project, try an egalitarian process where there is no leader and decisions must be made democratically.
  • Find a meaningful unifying vision for the project, and get out of the way.
  • Put trust in the process. You will not always get your way, but continued involvement by motivated participants is far more valuable than being in control.
  • If your company is not making the world a better place, than maybe it is time to adjust your priorities.

Links
OccupyWallSt.org
OccupyTogether.org
General Assembly for Occupy Wall Street
Reddit –  Occupy Wall Street

 

 

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How to Overcome Fear and Procrastination via Jonathan Fields

October 1st, 2011 · Personal Development

Big Ideas

  • Jonathan Fields introduces three simple questions to help tackle your fears.

Jonathan Fields on Overcoming Fear and Uncertainty

Is fear of failure holding you back from success? Author Jonathan Fields has a great TEDx video providing a blueprint to overcoming fears with three easy questions.
[Read more →]

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How to Find More Satisfication in Everything – The Ikea Effect

September 25th, 2011 · Ideas

Big Ideas:

  • We get more satisfaction when we exert more effort.
  • Obesity may be linked to how easy it has become to eat high calorie foods.

Mount Everest

Photo by Kappa Wayfarer

What would bring more personal satisfaction to you, being dropped on the top of Mount Everest by a helicopter or actually climbing the entire mountain and reaching it on your own after days of effort?

[Read more →]

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