Monday, August 29, 2016

Out of date Mental Models

One of the things that scares me is being wedded to outdated mental models.

You see this in sports a lot.

A player is great in one environment. We immediately think "this player is a great player." Say, Scottie Pippen on the Bulls. Or Kevin Garnett on the Celtics.

But then, the game changes. The player changes.  But our mental models don't.

So, Scottie Pippen goes to the Blazers. Garnett goes to the Nets. People think "this player is  great player, he'll help us."

But he doesn't.

You see this in business a lot as well. People will say, "Oh, I have a guy or a company who can really help us. She was great in a past job."

But today's business environment isn't the same as that of 5 years ago.

You could drop a member of the 1960s Celtics into an NBA game now and that player would know that it's basketball, but he wouldn't be able to compete.

The employee or firm who was "a rockstar" 10 years ago...may not be today.

There are new facts on the ground and the mental models of that person, company, player, or, heck, political candidate, need to be updated.

Nothing is static.

Now, I've realized that it's near impossible for me to change the mental model of other people.

If you support Obama, it doesn't matter if his response to Louisiana flooding was worse than Bush for Katrina.

And if you support Trump, you can easily ignore his racist/hate-filled supporters. Or if you support Clinton, no amount of evidence about emails or potential conflicts of interest are going to change your mind.

That's not my issue. My issue is:

What do I do to make sure that my mental models don't go stale?

How do I not fall into the trap of believing something once and then never going back to challenge those assumptions?

I've gotten a few good answers recently. One of them from Rebecca who said,

"I just look at an article about Hillary or Obama-whom I support- and then I do a mental 'find/replace' with the words Dick Cheney.

If reading that article about him with the same facts would get me riled up, I start asking myself if my image of Clinton and Obama is as clear as it could be."

Nothing is static.

It's when we think it is that we are blindsided by all of the changes out there.

The skill I am looking to develop is one where, like software getting updated, my mental models are being refreshed constantly.

The question is: what's the best way to do that?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Blockchains, Cryptocurrencies, and the end of Nation States?

I recently had a conversation with someone who thinks that Blockchains have the power to eliminate the need for the Federal Reserve. She acknowledged that she is of the "Ron Paul" mentality when it comes to economics, so she has a philosophical angle behind her position.

However, the rise of such powerful disruptors/disintermediators does beg the question:

In an age of increasing decentralization, what is the need and/or what will happen to such august centralized institutions as the Federal Reserve and other central banks?

A recent WSJ op-ed argued somewhat persuasively that the Fed needs new thinking.

Tangentially related, a great article in New Scientist asked "End of nations: is there an alternative to countries?"

Even asking these questions brought me back to the dawn of the social media age where I started to think about Marketing in a world where you went from a few channels to a billion.

You see, we all came of age in a world of large organizations that were built for scale.  Global brands that were coordinated across teams, functions, divisions, and silos.  It was this structural challenge that gave rise to the need for Sprinklr, a solution for adapting the new world of billions of channels to the "old world" of large brands.

While governments may not have been disrupted as much by social media, (as a Canadian, it's not like you can so easily choose a competing government and still live in Toronto, yet--see Government as a Service), communicating with citizens while important isn't necessarily core to governmental functions (though we may wish otherwise).

Money, however, is.

For a GREAT history of money and its role, I recommended Niall Ferguson's book.

So while Facebook/social media definitely challenges government on things like transparency and communication and elections, it doesn't rip at the fabric of government the way an alternative, practical (as opposed to gold, for example), digital, transportable, secure, and possibly anonymous store of value such as a cryptocurreny does.

Just because we were born into an era of big brands that control advertising doesn't mean it's always been that way or that it always will be that way.

And just because we were born into an era of big nation-states doesn't mean that it has always been that way or that it always will be that way.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Jobs We Will or Won't Lose to Machines

I've been on the anti-college kick for a while.

Not in the "you don't need college" sense, but in the "you don't need college in its current incarnation" sense.

I just don't think that college (or frankly most of K-12 education for that matter) is really preparing people for the jobs world we're going to see shortly.

And I've been on the technology-driven disruption kick and fascinated with the blockchain (mostly on my other blog) recently as well.

I was talking recently with someone about how the pace of technological change seems to be accelerating. We felt it, but couldn't necessarily prove it.

Then, I came upon this passage in the Blockchain Revolution:

"Moore’s law indicates that the rate of change is accelerating exponentially. We’re moving to the proverbial “second half of the chessboard” where exponential growth upon exponential growth creates the incomprehensible."

Then, of course, there's the personal re-invention theme that comes willingly or unwillingly.

Now, maybe it's confirmation bias, but this TED talk by Anthony Goldbloom "The jobs we'll lose to machines--and the ones we won't"  brings a lot of these together for me.

The paradigms of what worked in the past..."good grades, good college, good career" are just out-moded. It may be a slow trickle now, but at some point, it's going to be totally evident.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Future Proofing Yourself

How do you get your current self ready for the future self?

I've been thinking about this mostly in the context of businesses facing an upcoming disruption from blockchain technologies.

But that's kind of secondary to this point.

I think we can all agree that the future is going to be quite different from the past.  So, as my friend JDO used to say, "what got us here isn't going to get us there."

That's why I spend a lot of time challenging the concepts of higher education as we know it.

It's why I think programming is so critical. 

But that's just my opinion.

None of us know what the future holds, but we can all think about HOW we might begin to think about the trends we see so we can prepare for them.

How do I future-proof?

We all spend so much time thinking about today and tomorrow...but how about preparing for 20 years for now?

Friday, August 19, 2016

Hot or Cold?

We recently had a spate of near 100 and 100+ days.

As Nadia and I headed to the pool, the DJ on the radio was having a monologue about how he preferred the blizzard of this past winter to the pure heat.

Not I.

In the blizzard, we were homebound and it was cold.

In the heat (assuming the AC is working), I get to wear shorts, go to the pool, and am still mobile.

But maybe I'm alone in this.

How about you?

Prefer intense heat or severe cold/snow?

Obviously neither is best, but if you had to choose.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Government As A Service?

The Estonian Tax Authority is recognized as THE most efficient (taxes collected per employee) and effective (most percentage of taxes collected)  tax authority in the world.

Now, imagine this….what if a country that did a terrible job of tax collection (say Greece or any one of a 100 other countries) essentially outsourced their tax collection to the Estonians?

It would be revenue to the Estonians, yes, but it would result in far higher and better tax collection at a lower cost for the Greeks.

Politically, would it work?

Maybe….probably not. But imagine the DMV or the IRS or any one of 100 other agencies doing a better job for you for less money.

Do the  math…let’s say 500 civil servants in your state lose their jobs. But let’s say the government saves $20 million dollars. And, let’s say that happens 10 times.

That’s $200million dollars that the state just gave back to its taxpayers.

The idea of “government as a service” is pretty revolutionary, but in an era of huge government debt at federal, state, local level….wouldn’t it make sense to explore it?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A world where countries compete for citizens...

One of the themes that continually emerged during my trip to Estonia was their almost shared vision for a new type of "borderless world."

Now, when they say "borderless," I don't think they mean "no boundaries."  My sense is that they are just talking about the passing of the age of the nation-state.

There's a class of people in Estonia (and in many other places as well) who live a digitally-connected, globalized lifestyle.

Companies like Teleport and Jobbatical are based on this.

What they envision is a highly mobile workforce that can move around from place to place, looking for a combination of the right salary, culture, environment, and more and those people becoming citizens and sources of tax revenue.

It's almost like what has happened with financial capital, highly mobile and going after the best deal.

And people will optimize for their lifestyle.  If you like cleanliness, order, winter sports, and fish, you might move to Norway, but if you like beaches, music, and a slower pace, you might move to Jamaica.

The EU is a microcosm of this as entrepreneurs leave certain areas and go to other areas. It happens within the US.

Now, of course, countries will compete only for the most desirable citizens (however they define that) and it begs the questions of
1. how do you become a "desirable" citizen to be competed for like capital or a multi-national corporation
2. what happens to those who are "less desirable"?

I don't know the answers, but I know that the mobility that was once reserved for the super-rich is pushing down educated, connected, and mobile workers of a certain ilk...that's going to have an impact one way or another.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Estonian Skype Explosion

It seems like Estonian history was changed when Skype was sold for a boatload of money.

Not only did it send a message that people from “tiny Estonia” could have an impact on a global scale and strike it rich, it also spawned an entire network of people who both had money, business experience, and technical know-how.

Today, the impact is still felt there.  Like the ripples from a huge rock thrown into a pond.

The founders and early employees are the angel investors and entrepreneurs for the burgeoning start-up scene that is taking place in Estonia.

Another example of how one event can have a seismic and disproportionate impact on how history plays itself out.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Marriage: "Don't Quit...and don't call the police!"

Some of you may remember a guy by the name of Tom Campbell whom I met in a hotel elevator in Dallas a few years back. A former college football star and a consultant for a movie that is now on Netflix called "Everybody's All-American" it.

Anyway, I called him the other day for his birthday and he mentioned that the following day was going to be his 45th wedding anniversary.

"Any advice?" I asked.

"Don't quit. And don't call the police."

There. Saved you thousands of dollars in therapy ;-)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Trump Tower & The new face of reality TV

I was scrolling through Facebook when I came across my friend, Peter Shankman, livestreaming a guy climbing up the side of Trump Tower.


Not simply because of the question of: "will he fall?" or "what's going to happen?" but because of a few components that made it even more enjoyable/intriguing was the fact that we 
  • heard Peter offering his commentary (ok, so that's like any reporter, but it wasn't as entertaining)
  • We could offer real-time comments
  • Peter was responding to the comments that people were posting on the livestream
  • Commenters were engaging with each other
Over 3,000 people were watching, but we started to feel like we were part of the Shankman community, aka the "Shankmanunity."

It was so much more exciting than simply watching it on TV....until Shankman's battery became an issue (wish he had seen this comment in time!)

Anyway....I feel like I got a glimpse of the future....a future where everyone is their own TV network.

Necessity is the Mother of....

You’ve heard it. Invention.

I think seeing tiny Estonia (1.3 million people) in action reminded me of that.  They know they can’t compete globally without it.  They don’t have enough people, land, or natural resources.

And, when it comes to national defense, they are outnumbered 150:1 by Russia.

They can’t just throw bodies at the problem.

It reminded me of Israel.  Same idea.

Too small is a problem. But big enough to be small and small enough to be big…that’s the balance.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

How Estonia’s Government is Incentivized to be Effective

One of the concerns that Estonians have is: how to stay nimble, agile, and hungry so they continue to create an environment for innovation.

I think they have fully internalized the idea that big organizations are the anti-thesis of innovation. They aren’t designed for that function.

This is of particular concern as it relates to government. The believe that bureaucracy is the enemy of innovation and that the government, like the X-road system itself, should be a small thin layer that serves society—not a giant quagmire of regulation.

Sounds good.

So, how do they put that in practice?

One example we heard came from the tax office.

Many of us have seen situations where we work in companies or government and we have a “use it or lose it” budget.  This creates an incentive to waste and spend, just so we can prove that, “yes, we actually needed all the money you gave us and now we need more next year’ (since we can’t really measure the impact of our programs anyway).

Estonia does it differently.

If a government office is able to reduce waste and inefficiency, they actually get to KEEP a portion of the money they save for the future.  Almost like a bonus pool.

So, if you can eliminate 100 jobs by using technology, that agency gets to keep the equivalent of 10 of those salaries (instead of giving all 100 salaries back to the central coffers).

Now, this has obvious impact in terms of the 100 people who now need other jobs, but the Estonians recognize that the GREATER good is served by having those 100 people find other jobs and saving the Estonian taxpayers the money.

Even those who are laid off recognize it.

Yes, it’s a big cultural shift.

In fact, during the 2008 economic crisis, the Estonian government was forced to lay off a number of civil servants (the country is required by its constitution to not incur debt)….and that government was re-elected!