Isaac Asimov, Visit to the World’s Fair of 2014 (1964)
Isaac Asimov, Visit to the World’s Fair of 2014 (1964)
The “Terminator” franchise proposes a future in which humans are fighting against Skynet, an Artificial Intelligence. At least that’s what the humans think they are fighting.
An alternative way to think about this future, is that there is no Artificial Intelligence. Instead, the elites have separated themselves from the proletariat and have begun a genocidal war against them using killer drones.
Which future is more likely? A menacing singularity or a group of resistance fighters being hunted down by drones from an unknown enemy? I imagine that it must feel a lot like the latter in Afghanistan. Polls show that 92% of Afghans have never heard of 9/11. They are presently fighting a war with no history, and no future.
"92% of Afghans have never heard of 9/11. They are presently fighting a war with no history, and no future."
I’ve known Charlene from back in the days when she was a superstar analyst at Forrester Research prior to the founding of Altimeter Group, and we’ve remained close friends since that time. She’s now even more well-known from her writing and research, and I continue to be a great admirer of her work and thinking.
About Charlene Li
From the Altimeter Group site:
Charlene is the Founder of Altimeter Group and the author of the New York Times bestseller, Open Leadership. She is also the coauthor of the critically acclaimed, bestselling book Groundswell, which was named one of the best business books in 2008.
She is one of the foremost experts on social media and technologies and a consultant and independent thought leader on leadership, strategy, social technologies, interactive media and marketing. Formerly Li was vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, worked in online newspaper publishing, and was a consultant with Monitor Group. She was named one of the 100 most creative people in business by Fast Company in 2010 and one of the most influential women in technology 2009.
Stowe Boyd: I read your Trends to Watch in 2014 post, and thought I’d dig into the two research fronts you are pursuing, personally, in 2014. You wrote that you were ‘extending my research on leadership and organizations to look at how companies are engaging empowered employees and designing holistic strategies that create and define the future of work’. Perhaps you could expand on that research agenda a bit?
Charlene Li: One of the biggest challenges facing organizations has always been how to find and keep motivated, engaged employees. That’s because in a complex and competitive world, having each and every employee be fully present and passionate about their job can give you a huge advantage — so why wouldn’t we want to do this as leaders?
The shift with digital, social, and mobile technologies has brought the issue of empowered employees to the forefront of strategy. Up to this point, most enterprise energy has been expended on containing the power of “rogue” employees who post less-than-complimentary content, pictures, and video of themselves at work. But more recently, organizations realize that employees provide what is perhaps the best way to engage with a diverse customer base distributed throughout the digital landscape. So rather than muffle employees, organizations want to figure out how encourage their “safe” engagement and amplify those voices. This requires a completely different way of thinking about the underlying relationship between employee and employees. I frequently ask my audiences, “How would you feel if everyone of your employees was empowered to be a marketer? Would you be absolutely thrilled — or absolutely terrified?” Most organizations would admit the second, but recognize that they really need to answer in the affirmative to the first question. So my research is looking at how are organizations are thinking strategically about engaging employees and empowering them to act on their best judgment of what is good and best for the company. I’m finding that leaders in these organizations think about strategic transformation at the most deep-rooted intersections of organizations, changing the nature of power relations. I’m interested in learning how they do this in a systematic way and how technologies help them and the organization on the transformation journey.
SB: Do you find those changes in power relations involve an increase in individual autonomy, and a corresponding decrease in managerial authority?
CL: While I do see an increase in individual autonomy, there’s also a shift to and increase in accountability for that individual back to the manager. The actual nature of the relationship shifts with the manager tracking less the time and specific activities and focusing more on broad outcomes. The manager’s role thus shifts to higher order issues — such as goal setting and roadblock blasting, rather than micro-managing.
SB: You also said you’d be looking more deeply into how companies are ‘designing holistic strategies that create and define the future of work’. Is it strategy formulation in the classic model that you are looking into? Where a small group devise a plan to enter a new industry, for example? Or are you talking about a strategic effort to change how work is done, and how people are engaged?
CL: I’m curious about how big, established organizations go about doing this. This is not to discount the efforts of a small group seeking to foment disruption — they have different challenges, namely related to getting traction and scaling their disruption. I believe that enterprises have a much harder task — creating meaningful change. Meaningful change by definition is hard and painful, so strategies are needed to paint the picture of why and how the painful change is needed.
So this is classic strategy development — defining the goal, crafting how execution roadmap over time, and putting in place the metrics that tell us if and when we’ve reached the goal AND created value in the process. Without this concrete alignment, any efforts at creating a new way of working or redefining how work will be done, lacks the strategic context to make the change and ultimately, to have an impact.
SB: Mintzberg’s emergent strategy idea is at variance with that classic model of deliberate strategy. As Hax and Mojluf wrote (Strategy and the Strategy Formation Process) regarding the differences,
When a deliberate strategy is realized, the result matches the intended course of action. An emergent strategy develops when an organization takes a series of actions that with time turn into a consistent pattern of behavior, regardless of specific intentions.
I wonder if we are in a period of such rapid change and uncertainty that deliberate strategy may just be too slow, and may rely too strongly on being right about economic conditions in the near future?
CL: When I mean classic strategy development, I’m talking about the core elements of strategy alignment — not necessarily the long, arduous process typically associated with management consulting projects. I’m a firm believer of rapidly developing the core strategy — you should be able to tell the strategy as a story that everyone can repeat over and over again. If it’s more complex than that, you can’t align around it. The emergent strategy works very well and is absolutely needed — the strategy is good only as long as it is resilient in the face of rapid changing forces. But I do believe that you need at least some foundational direction and guiding principles of what you want the highest level of the strategy to accomplish.
SB: The abiding question of Socialogy is to ask the question ‘what domain of science should we be looking into for better ideas about how business might be better conducted?’ Recent answers include social network theory, biology, and complexity. What’s your take?
CL: Recently, I’ve been hitting my bookshelf and reaching for the Founding Fathers of Sociology — Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber. Marx asked profound questions about the relationship between workers, capital, and culture — and threw in a good dose of economics to explain it all. For example, I look at the emergence of the Sharing Economy through the lens of Marxist sociology to understand how the relationship is shifting capital from institutions to individuals. How can we continually shift production AND capital to the “workers” so that we can keep the negative effects of capitalism at bay?Durkheim coined the term “collective consciousness” and he explored what it is that holds a society together. I go back to the fundamentals of how we form communities and connections and am particularly intrigued by the success of Secret and Whisper. What does the success of these sites say about our collective consciousness? How has identity and anonymity changed the way we hold each other in societal relationships — and what’s the role of anonymity within a society like an organization?
And lastly Weber did some of the earliest work about the formation of bureaucracies. He wrote, “Bureaucratic administration means fundamentally domination through knowledge.” He wrote about efficiencies of bureaucracies while also acknowledging how they create an “iron cage”. Now enter our current age of knowledge and sharing, and especially the silo-breaking use of enterprise social networks and collaboration platforms within organizations. I can’t help but wonder what these three great sociologists would think about the world that we live in today. How would they describe, analyze and understand our world? They employed the vast field of social sciences from economics to psychology to form new hypotheses of how society putters along. I hope that we think like Marx, Durkheim, and Weber in a holistic, broad way about what fundamentally makes us a society — and not fall to simple theories to describe our complexity as interconnected humans.
SB: Thank you for that perspective: it was inspirational. And thanks again for your time.
CL: Stowe, it’s always great fun and thought provoking to engage with you!
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.
The real action to date on driverless vehicles has been military (canonical ‘drones’), and commercial transport (like mining, and rail transportation, like the trains at airports). Next up: giant cargo ships.
In an age of aerial drones and driverless cars, Rolls-Royce (RR/) Holdings Plc is designing unmanned cargo ships.
Rolls-Royce’s Blue Ocean development team has set up a virtual-reality prototype at its office in Alesund, Norway, that simulates 360-degree views from a vessel’s bridge. Eventually, the London-based manufacturer of engines and turbines says, captains on dry land will use similar control centers to command hundreds of crewless ships.
Drone ships would be safer, cheaper and less polluting for the $375 billion shipping industry that carries 90 percent of world trade, Rolls-Royce says. They might be deployed in regions such as the Baltic Sea within a decade, while regulatory hurdles and industry and union skepticism about cost and safety will slow global adoption, said Oskar Levander, the company’s vice president of innovation in marine engineering and technology.
“Now the technology is at the level where we can make this happen, and society is moving in this direction,” Levander said by phone last month. “If we want marine to do this, now is the time to move.”
Crews will offer no safety advantage after ships evolve equipment for remote control, preventive maintenance and emergency back-ups, Levander said. Unmanned ships will need constant and comprehensive computer monitoring to anticipate failures in advance and “redundant” systems to kick in, similar to those on airplanes, he said.
The computers would also be constantly analyzing operations data to improve efficiency and save money, he said. Cameras and sensors can already detect obstacles in the water better than the human eye.
Human error causes most maritime accidents, often relating to fatigue, according to Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty AG. Total losses are declining, with 106 in 2012, 24 percent below the 10-year average, according to the most recent data from the unit of the Munich-based insurer.
Unmanned ships would also reduce risks such as piracy, since there would be no hostages to capture, Levander said. It would also eliminate liability for repatriating sailors when owners run out of money or abandon crews, which has stranded at least 2,379 people in the past decade.
Drone ships would become vulnerable to a different kind of hijacking: from computer hackers. While the technology may never be fully secure, it needs to be so difficult to break that it’s not worth the effort, according to Levander.
Unmanned ships would still require captains to operate them remotely and people to repair and unload them in port. These workers would have better quality of life compared with working at sea, Levander said.
The end of the merchant marine, and a great backdrop for fiction: stowing away on a South Pacific transport from Vietnam, a family of six tries sneak into the US.
Carr, Francis, Rivlin and Stone, Public Space (Cambridge Series in Environment and Behavior)
A pioneering urban economist offers fascinating, even inspiring proof that the city is humanity’s greatest invention and our best hope for the future.
America is an urban nation. More than two thirds of us live on the 3 percent of land that contains our cities. Yet cities get a bad rap: they’re dirty, poor, unhealthy, crime ridden, expensive, environmentally unfriendly… Or are they?
As Edward Glaeser proves in this myth-shattering book, TRIUMPH OF THE CITY, cities are actually the healthiest, greenest, and richest (in cultural and economic terms) places to live. New Yorkers, for instance, live longer than other Americans; heart disease and cancer rates are lower in Gotham than in the nation as a whole. More than half of America’s income is earned in twenty-two metropolitan areas. And city dwellers use, on average, 40 percent less energy than suburbanites.
This year’s WEF report on Global Risks: Global Risks 2014 report.
Doesn’t include the surveillance state knowing everything about everyone?
Josh Freedman and Michael Lind look back to the New Deal and forward to a new social contract. Will we have a continuation of the ruinous “low-wage” social contract that is now in effect, a shift to the Nordic social state, or a third alternative?
What, then, would a better social contract look like?
First, we could accept the basic shape of the low-wage economy while softening its edges by asking government to do even more. With higher taxes on the wealthy, Washington could use the tax code to provide poor and middle-class families more generous means-tested subsidies to pay for childcare, education, and healthcare. Since the Clinton era, much of the Democratic Party has embraced this version of the social contract. It is essentially the model behind Obamacare.
The downside, besides the challenge of raising taxes, is that subsidies don’t guarantee affordability. They can even encourage industries to raise their prices; see, for example, the proliferation of cheap student loans, which have not made college much more affordable. What’s more, means-tested programs for the poor often lack the political support needed to keep them strong.
Another possibility, which would please many progressives, would be to nudge the economy toward a social democratic model such as that of Scandinavia. This social contract would entail high wages, a high cost of living, and a universal welfare state paid for with high, relatively flat taxes.
But transplanting the Nordic model as a whole to the U.S. would be difficult in the face of fierce resistance to higher levels of spending. It would also be hard to import a system of benefits paid for by broad and flat taxes, like payroll taxes and consumption taxes, on a country like the U.S. with much greater inequality.
In our own work at the New America Foundation, we have outlined a third idea we call the “middle-income social contract.” It assumes that many service industries won’t be able to offer their workers middle-income salaries, which means that, in addition to raising wages somewhat, the government will have to take a more active role in making essential services like education, child care and health care more affordable. The best way to do this is to provide these programs directly, such as through universal Pre-K, single-payer health insurance, or subsidies to the states for taking care of the elderly. Policymakers can begin to build a middle-income social contract by raising the federal minimum wage closer to a true living wage and expanding public early education, both of which are widely popular proposals.
The current low-wage social contract between American workers, employers, and the government has been a raw deal for most Americans. Just as the New Deal contract shifted to the low wage model, we need to shift once again to a system more suited to the current economy and needs of workers and citizens. The options for the next social contract are many—we just have to choose the right one.
I believe that we are on the path toward government provided education (pre-K through college), health and elderly care, and greatly strengthened social security, all paid for through higher taxes on the wealthy and business. We will simply have to wait for the GOP to be made insignificant through changing demographics.
Of course, many libertarians — including the tech sector — will be opposed, but there is a split there for social liberalism, like education.
But this will be the front and center political battlefield for the next presidential elections. The core question: How much does the State have to do to ensure equality, both in opportunity and in services?