Umair Haque / Bubblegeneration
umair haque  


Design principles for 21st century companies, markets, and economies. Foreword by Gary Hamel. Coming January 4th. Pre-order at Amazon.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Love > Fear, Special Bubblegen Edition

So I got this tweet from Kate:

"... Am I allowed to say that I think Umair Haque is a little... offputting? He's got great things to say, but I just don't like reading him."

Now, I think that's actually on the money - so thanks, Kate. Man, I don't even like to read what I've written lately - it's ugly.

When I think about it, there are three reasons why.

The first is personal. My mom was pretty sick. She's better now, but it was a rough couple of months.

The second is that I've just been working way too hard (book, lab, etc).

The third is a bit deeper. Before, it was just kind of wonkish fun for me to write about this stuff. But the more I've thought about it, the more I've gotten a little angry about the ways in which business is failing us. I've really been feeling it - instead of just detachedly analyzing it. Maybe a bit too much - because it's bleeding through in how I've been writing lately.

So, I think I am going to try and back off a little bit - and apologies if it feels like I'm shouting at you. Do me a favour and let me know if you feel the way Kate did.

-- umair // 3:00 PM // 34 comments


Nope. I think the tone shows nothing other than that you care about the subject matter. I wouldn't change a thing.

Cheers, Jonathan.
// Blogger Jonathan // 3:48 PM

Yup, I did. I think sharing bits of insight is great, and I'm comfortable reading incomplete, developing ideas, or a single idea broken up across many posts. However, I think that falls apart really quickly when the tone isn't right; it starts to feel like ranting and badgering. Of course, we keep coming back because it's not, but best to remove all doubt!
// Anonymous Anonymous // 3:48 PM

I have to agree with her.

The "people are just saying what I've been saying for years" shtick is really pointless. I think it might be ok to embrace/extend the current thread with a review of points you made through time. Esp if you then connect it to other things.

And a lot of the "x is evil" thing is something I agree with, but really want to see more constructive/positive examples. Besides Google, who, it could be argued, is subsidizing good stuff with "excess" profits from "owning" the main ad market. Some people estimate FaceBook is pretty marginally profitable. Would being less "evil" really make them more money? How? Would it require them getting so big as to "own" social networking? I don't think that's what we want. So, what's a rational play for them, that we would be happy with?
// Blogger BillSeitz // 3:57 PM

The passion with which the last few months of articles have been infused with is why I keep coming back. I love a good cynic who is also well informed. Umair has a perception and an opinion from which he doesn't sway. Whether I agree or disagree is of no still provokes deeper thought.

// Anonymous Anonymous // 4:19 PM

I agree with Kate to some extent. I think the content was good, but some of it was coloured by the tone.

However, the fact you've disclosed why, and taken Kate's comments on board is great and shows why I'll keep reading and subscribing.
// Blogger David Kohl // 4:29 PM

Did Kate say why? I share your anger, get value from most of your recent posts, and like your general trend.

I agree with bill seitz about the defensive/competitive shtick, but I do emphathize with your position.

So if you change anything, try to read the tea leaves correctly. In other words, don't backpedal on your strengths, altho some people might not like them.
// Anonymous Anonymous // 4:30 PM

It's true that at your blog I get a lot of substance (raw ideas, opinions) with less attention to the packaging (emotion, tone, sometimes clarity).

But I think that's part of why there's so much substance to what is found here. If you could keep all the substance and improve the packaging a bit, I think it would be on the margin good for everyone. But I wouldn't recommend giving up any of the substance to improve the packaging, and to me that seems like a decision you made long ago. Stand by that.
// Anonymous Anonymous // 4:48 PM

the core, the seed, of your insights comes from the heart of consciousness ... you are right because it is the way reality works because consciousness is the way it is ... you were born to say what you are saying

ok... and...

this world that we see, the one we work in, invest in, play in, grow in, is a place of becoming ... it is a process, for all, with many layers, each layer based upon a level of consciousness, and each is true for those who see from the level they are on

your challenge is to communicate a higher truth to a lower level of understanding. this is a hugely challenging thing to learn how to do. done well it demands a degree of selflessness that has almost no model, or even reward, in current culture.

fortunately "nature" itself is on your side, the changes arriving daily all demand the adjustments to standard thinking that you are here to teach.

your job is not to point out the obvious, the so-called evil, your job is to show the higher way, and that is enough. the old ("evil") naturally falls away, the new ("good") naturally is born, when attention is put onto what needs to happen next.

simply talk about solutions, all the audience you can handle will show up

thanks for the humility, very inspiring. blessings to mom.

// Blogger gregory // 4:57 PM

Reading your unplugged thoughts & opinions is what this is all about.

Let it flow.

/ BG
// Blogger billg // 5:07 PM

the passion is fantastic for a variety of reasons. what gregory points out is that what you're trying to communicate is fundamentally difficult, especially when at your essence you're trying to educate as well as communicate. easy for audience to get confused, but tremendously powerful once audience understands context.

if there's no backlash then you're not pushing thought. keep it coming.
// Anonymous Anonymous // 5:19 PM

re: Fear and Loathing in Bubble Generation

Kate is a Talisman, not a canary in the coal mine.

First off, screw'em. Speak your truth and don't run a popularity contest. "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers", wins wars and makes a difference.

Second, and however, I think your views are still groping for a thesis that connects. Readers are seeing art being made, and a lot of people don't like to see that process. Like in Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape when the Victorian debutante actually sees the conditions of the men in the engine room that is really propelling the opulent ship.

My perception of you changed greatly when you posted a link to some panel you were on a few months ago. On stage you have a very nice and pleasant persona that says really relevant things. In writing however, that patina of grace drops a bit and you're off swilling beer sometimes. Evil vs. Good gets repetitive and not clear enough to me frequently.

I can feel it too that the coordination capabilities, low transaction costs, and ubiquitous connectivity (for people with money) is changing industries. Evil old strategies will be beat by Good, but you're still not stating it clearly enough. So people will continue to act in their own self interest, same as before, right? It seems you're getting repetitive.

It also seems like you're too idealistic. Even Martin Luther King negotiated how to get Civil Rights on the agenda. I think there are limits to how much will change and enabling 80% of the world’s population with an even quality of life does not seem realistic within our lifetime. How business is failing us? -insert Shakespeare quote here about it is humans that fail, not the systems we create- Be happy with little victories, like the music industry, because it's a long war.

At the end of the day, screw'em. I'll keep reading because you have great things to say. Blogging isn't about big audiences, it's about the right audience. I think you believe that as media business models explode, but emotionally, it's hard to hear from Kate. Perhaps that emotional / rational exchange is the same thing that tripped up the 'big internet property' that said "We love what you write, but don't understand it".

‘Back off a little’? Yes, be smart as your head makes a poor drill for this rock. Back off, change direction, set a sail and tack, read some fiction, find a way around, over or under the rock, but never, never, never quit.

And, I'm glad to hear your mother is better too. Mine is 80 and not so well herself.
// Blogger Lloyd Fassett // 6:33 PM

I think your writing has felt angrier lately. I still love the content and read blogs for exactly that kind of passion. That said, I'm glad to see you acknowledging this tone shift and trying to self correct. Don't go to far - part of your persuasive power is the strength of your convictions.
// Blogger Unknown // 6:35 PM

hey umair,

no one big or small can deny that you write well and make a lot (lots) of sense. but sometimes dude, you can get a tad sensitive:


the point of the post was that i already said "look at this idea" long ago.

if you really think bubblegen is some kind of vehicle for promoting me vs discussing ideas, i'd appreciate it you just stopped reading.

thx for the comment."

But thanks for writing... I really appreciate the time you put in to share concepts that will change the work

Obama + Substance = Haque.
// Blogger Riff // 6:52 PM

No substitute or editing necessary for passion. Keep it coming!
// Anonymous Anonymous // 7:31 PM

Don't back off from your passion. You should write what you feel. It shows me that you care.

A couple of small nitpicks.

Too much Google (good) and Facebook (bad) stuff. You are using it as an example I know. But this takes away from your limited bandwidth. I am sure there are a lot of other interesting trends and topics out there.

The other thing that gets in the way for me is 'upaqueness'. I would like to see more transparency/clarity in the artciles you write. I feel sometimes you are hloding some stuff back.
// Anonymous Anonymous // 8:30 PM

look at this thread ... bloody great comments ...

imagine if you had disqus, instead of the ridiculous blogger crap (from the soon to be evil G)

then the conversation could really fly ... i mean, damn, i want to talk to at least half the people who have written on all your posts today...

upgrade, dude!

ch 1, mu 1, halftime
// Blogger gregory // 8:44 PM

damn, great thread ... i want to talk to half the people who have commented here today

get disqus ... this ridiculous blogger crap from the soon to be evil google is disgusting

upgrade, dude!
// Blogger gregory // 8:47 PM

good writing, sometimes hard to follow but good non the less. I have noticed that your tone has changed drastically from those of your earlier posts in the archives. The older posts your seemed less angry. Having said that a blog is about self expression, so write as you please. I wonder if this comment will be moderated out?
// Anonymous Anonymous // 10:24 PM


Don't apologize. Your messages and tone have been completely appropriate. Be yourself. Life has its highs and lows and it is OK to let a bit of what's ailing you show through. Glad your Mom is doing OK.

As for business failing us...I think that you are on the money. Just one example is right in front of us. Today I have been sitting here watching oil hitting $130/barrel and heading higher as the hedge funds and other speculators jump on board the momentum in that market convinced that gravity won't apply to the oil market. I can't help thinking how little the publicly traded oil companies have done to redeploy their massive profits to open up alternative sources of energy. They are living in their own world saying, "don't look at us, it has nothing to do with's just supply and demand - what could we do?".

I applaud you for taking such a strong stance on "good vs evil". Currently I am focusing more of my own efforts on supporting social entrepreneurs (the Poptech Accelerator and Social Fellows Program) willing to come up with new business models that can make money and do good at the same time. There are too many problems we are getting ready to hand on to my teenagers caused by excessive focus on business opportunities built purely around "evil" as you describe it. The solution can't be just to wait for the next Bill Gates to launch another foundation to help mend the holes in the global social fabric....
4:59 PM
// Anonymous Anonymous // 11:06 PM

Hi Umair :)

As I said, I wasn't going to leave regardless, and you've just given me more reason to stay on board. A mark of good listener, not just a venter which is half the conversation.

On that note, I keep your mom in my thoughts, and hereby offer my services if I can help with the loads of work. As I also said, you've got really great things to say and I share many of your frustrations!

// Blogger Kate // 2:56 AM

// Anonymous Anonymous // 4:32 AM

I'm in the "don't-edit-a-thing" camp. We should all be more outraged by the stupidity in the valley, in corps, in all of us.

And if people would try just a little bit harder to get the nuances of what you're saying, that would be nice.

Keep it coming, Umair. We need ya.
// Anonymous Anonymous // 5:31 AM

there's certainly an increasing level of anger in your posts. When that anger is directed against companies I don't mind, but when it seems to be directed against your readers (me!) then I think you need to pull back a bit.

I can understand your frustration when readers aren't grasping your ideas, but when you're complain (in the last Bubblegen post) "Guys, at this point, I say this every day, and some of you still don't really get it" I think it comes across with a certain level of anger.

If after all this time a lot of your readers "still don't really get it" then maybe the answer is not to get angry with them, but instead to re-evaluate how you're communicating the concepts and see if you can approach the explanation from a different perspective. You wouldn't advise a company to show their frustration with their customers for not "getting" their latest idea, after all.

Having said all that, your passion is what has driven this blog for so long, and I wouldn't want to see that disappear. It's just about finding that balance.

Good to hear that your mom is recovering, and I hope you can find some time to relax in the mad whirl of lab, book, and all the other things you do.
// Blogger Paul Watson // 8:09 AM

The good artist collects an appreciative audience.

The bad artist collects none.

The pure artist remains aloof and unswayed by both the attentions of their affectionate audience and the complaints of their critical audience.

The conceited artist in consideration of their audience is first captured by them, then corrupted by them, and finally condemned by them.

Neither seek, nor heed, advice from one's audience.

The question is, am I a member of your audience?
// Blogger Crosbie Fitch // 10:44 AM

I wouldn't worry at all. You turn complex issues into the good, the bad and the evil and in doing give everyone the tools to create their own opinion. What could be better?
// Anonymous Anonymous // 3:58 PM

Keep trudging. Keep your motives pure and you'll know where to be.
// Blogger Scott Crawford // 4:29 PM


First of all, sorry to hear about your mom. That stuff is tough. Glad she’s feeling better.

Anyone interested in effectively communicating/making an argument needs to do their best maintain a semblance of balance and objectivity. In order to do so, it’s sometimes necessary to step back from it all, take a breath and let pent up frustration go.

That all said, I think it’s ok to be frustrated about important things. It’s ok to be angry about important issues. And sometimes, it’s ok to let that displeasure fly. Perhaps if we all got a little more indignant when/where appropriate, things would change more often, for the better and faster…

The issues you’re discussing here are real and are significant. They’re fundamental socio-economic issues. They need to be addressed.

Fortunately, and as you’ve already pointed out, the breakdown of this gone-awry form of capitalism is inevitable. Change is coming whether everyone likes it or not. You’re just trying to help it along and help people understand it all.

You’re doing the right thing. Keep it up.
// Anonymous Anonymous // 6:39 PM

Don't quit. You're giving a lot of us things to think about, and anger is an energy. :-)
// Anonymous Anonymous // 5:24 PM

Kate deserves a lot of credit for her comment, and Umair the same credit for receiving considering it.

It's a bit silly to "take sides" like many commenters did because that completely misses the point.

This is the nature of "good" communication; when people are honest and assertive enough to say what they're really thinking AND to be open and humble enough to listen to the response, real learning takes place.

Thank you Kate and Umair.
// Blogger Howard Liptzin // 10:40 AM

Umair, F*ck them and keep doing what you do. These Lazy Ass Liberals who think that Philanthropists/Government are going to solve our problems are sorely mistaken and deserve everything they get.

Your the only tech dude that talks about democracy and the distribution of informational wealth and I love it.

Non Profits don't change the world, Technology alone doesn't change the world. People do. (**Your TED post was priceless)

Thank you.
// Blogger Model Minority // 3:58 PM

You have always been the last place to go to for informed opinion; don't change that.
// Anonymous Anonymous // 11:03 AM

Personally, I think things are getting even more interesting on your blog. I find it seriously challenging and that's extremely helpful.

Don't tone it down.
// Anonymous Anonymous // 5:27 PM

Your content is thought provoking and appreciated. Your "voice" does have an arrogance element. Passion doesn't have to be conveyed arrogantly.

However, the fact that you are asking for feedback suggests that you are open minded and eager to understand how you are perceived.

Keeping tuning your voice.
// Anonymous Anonymous // 10:06 PM

Yes you care about what you write the subject. The passion and motives are transparent and since I started to read your articles not too long ago have found you to be pretty insightful and thought provoking.

Sometimes though, you do rub me the wrong way because you get overzealot about wanting companies (think Gap)and industries to go under.

I was a designer in the surf industry until the last round of layoffs. The inherent value of me working at a company like that has to do with philosophy as well as the merchandise we produced. It helped shaped the visual culture + identity of a group of like minded individuals who shares in the same moral code about nature, eco consciousness and sports. The clothing was a by product and an end to a means to make money. In these economic times, its not enough to say that Threadless is a competitor that will put the company out of business. The community and the people who works there would probably argue with you about the values that this brings to the community. What is value to you may not be value for others.

I'm not sure what kind of background you come from, but there are A LOT of people who are suffering right now, losing jobs and homes everywhere. I personally find talking about change, talking about innovations that could abolish companies and industries to be a bit insensitive. I wish that I believe that a few good entrepenuers and engineers will rescue the economy but I dont. There are thousands of skilled labor workers as well as fashion professionals who are out of a job right now. These are the people who did the work, they didn't just talk about doing the work. I'm pretty sure that they're not the ones that got everyone into this mess either. So before someone screams at me for being a bleeding heart liberal, I just had to remind you that we all have bills and mortgages to pay and real everyday concerns.

You have an audience that is broad and I am hoping by writing this, you will use some sensitivity in your assessments. The vision and ideals alone won't change economies. Neither will a few know it all 2.0 entrepenuers will swoop in and save the day.
// Anonymous Anonymous // 3:03 PM

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