Strategies for a discontinuous future.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006


Guys, I just wanted to say thanks for giving me some space to discuss the issue of institutionalized racism.

It's something that I've been feeling more and more over the last couple of years, and I felt an obligation to share some of my thoughts/experiences with you.

It's not something that's easy or comfortable to write about, or, I'm sure, to comment on.

So thanks for the comments/discussion; I appreciate all of them.

I've got about one more big post to write on the topic, and then we will get back to much more media, 2.0, value creation/next-gen econ, why the venture industry is broken, creativity vs strategy, etc...

-- umair // 9:04 PM //


Politics of the Day, Last One for a Very Long Time Edition

Funnily enough, it's Newsweek that's just published what is perhaps the greatest article about the War on Turra that I think I've ever read.

Take it from me - everything this guys says about the Muslim world is absolutely spot on (which is a Very Bad Thing). Do not miss.

-- umair // 8:41 PM //


Macropocalypse: Next Big Things - The Rebirth of Labour

The rebirth of labour is very much on the cards. For the last decade, management has gotten "rich" by appropriating rents that should have flowed to employees. The result has been an unprecedented innovation crash, concentration across industries, hugely growing income inequality, and the social malaise that a nation of workerbots droning away around the clock for peanuts must necessarily bring.

The most interesting point is that strategically, of course, redistributing income throughout the firm according to tenets which contradict not just economic value creation, but the basic rights of labour (ie, I'm the CEO, so I should capture 50,000x as much as you) is an enormous error in the long run.

Wal-Mart's demise (which has already begun) will be a long, slow whimper, not a loud bang - one driven by the fact that it's sucked the innovative capacity out of not just itself, but out of large swathes of America as well.

-- umair // 3:24 PM //

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Politics of the Day, Why I <3 Fox News Edition

In case you're wondering (like I often used to) - is Fox News really racist, or is it just a ratings game they're playing?

I had the dubious honor of hearing a senior Fox News guy speak at a recent conference about Myspace. He was supposed to talk about child molesters hanging out on Myspace; you know, security, blah blah.

Curiously (or not), he used the very nice phrase "guys from Gaza" - his fav line, repeated about fifteen times was "do you want your daughter hooking up with/getting in trouble with/molested by/seeing a guy from Gaza?"

Last time I checked, most guys from Gaza were just...uhh...brown, not child molesters. Last time I checked, not wanting your kids to have relationships with people outside your ethnic group was pretty strong evidence of...uhh...racism.

The point: it should be obvious that implying every dude in Gaza is a child molester is pretty much the textbook definition of (an especially sleazy kind of) racism.

Out of deference to the organizer, I didn't say anything (though I strongly regret it now); it was a small conference, and saying something about this would have killed it totally.

But if that conversation tells us anything, at least some people at a fairly senior level at Fox aren't doing these kinds of things for ratings; rather, they are (not to mince words) abhorrent (and unashamed) racists.

The most interesting thing was that this guy had obviously given this speech many times before, and no one had said anything - this was racism built deep into the structure of a social situation. It is as vivid an example of institutionalized racism as I think one might ever hope to find.

Meanwhile, the deafening silence of the American left, perhaps the most castrated political movement that ever was, thunders on.

While Fox News is busy loudly and boorishly spouting the vilest of kind of racism, religious fundamentalism, irrationality, fear-mongering and hysteria, etc, the left has just...shut up about, well, everything except how stupid Bush is (which pretty much everyone knows and already agrees with).

It's troubling for a brown guy, to say the least, to have to go treat these things as parts of "everyday life" - in this case, to go to a conference, only to be hear other brown dudes stereotyped as "child molesters".

Hopefully, this story gives you some insight about why I feel the need to talk about this stuff. The point is not sympathy, or insulting Fox News. Rather, it's that relationships and dialogue are really the only things that stop racism, xenophobia, and the mindless exploitation of manufactured "difference" from festering.

Put another way: there are deep rifts threatening to open across the world. I would like to do my bit to stop them from widening. I think perhaps the best way I can do taht is to share my experiences of these rifts very openly with you guys.

NB - Please note this has nothing at all to do with FIM (Fox Interactive) guys, of which every single one I've talked to has been super cool.

-- umair // 2:44 PM //


Politics of the Day, We R Dumber Than U Edition

Noes!!�$!!!! He DIDD!�%!!!!!!!

We are all The Decider now.

-- umair // 1:46 PM //


The Economics of Terror

Last night, I heard the Israeli PM argue that "proportionality" shouldn't be based on the extent of damage (let's rephrase that - costs incurred), but on the extent of the "threat".

This is not just a morally troubling argument (because it's easy to slippery slope your way from there to arguing that "threats" exist everywhere there's a brown person :). In fact, it's a deeply flawed argument from a strategic pov; and examining why reveals the gaping heart at the antistrategy of the War on Turra.

Let's think about this a little critically for a second. Let's say you are a terrorist (no, NSA, I'm not a terrorist). Your benefits are basically how much damage you cause/people you kill/etc. Your costs are very different: they are basically search costs - most terrorists don't have problems getting money, they have problems getting bombs, guns, and other assorted tools of the trade.

Now, let's think about the limit case of this argument - which is actually only 10-20 years away: imagine a world where anyone can destroy a city with something they download from the net, and build themselves. It's a world that we're becoming increasingly familiar with thinking about.

From a strategic pov, this world is happening because the costs of being a terrorist are dropping by orders of magnitude, while benefits are simultaneously exploding: yesterday, you might order a few grenades, and kill a few hundred people.

But in our limit case, what you download/build/etc will kill thousands or tens of thousands - without the need for the enormously costly coordination that went into something like 9/11.

Now, consider these new economics in light of the new "proportionality" argument - that one should respond in line with "size of the threat", preemptively if possible. In our limit case, the expected cost to us of each potential terrorist attack is huge - and these potential attacks and attackers are everywhere (because the costs the terrorists incur are very low).

Can we "fight" such an enemy with our strategy? Our strategy calls for us to respond to the expected size of the threat - preemptively. This means uhhh...bombing everyone, everywhere, all the time. Clearly, this strategy is going to be very, very costly for us - but not so costly for the other side. Already, this is a bad outcome.

But let's think a little further ahead. What does it mean to respond to the "size" of a threat if a terrorist is a guy with a suitcase, who might blow up a city? Well, it can only really mean something like levelling the city the terrorist is from. Which means lots and lost and lots of innocent people die always and everywhere under this strategy.

And that means, of course, in the next round of the game, you will have even more terrorists - more guys who want to kill you. And you will have to keep blowing more and more cities; which will create more terrorist, and so on into oblivion.

The point is that such a strategy leads (literally) to chaos and disequilibrium - an endless spiral of more and more destruction. It is the worst outcome for everyone. All of which makes this set of actions not just absurd morally, but vacuous strategically as well.

And that's perhaps the simplest reason the War on Turra isn't just an inane concept - but is, in fact, a strategic error of the highest level. Fighting terror with, well, terror - unsurprisingly, just creates more terror.

Let me draw an analogy that may make this easier to understand. It's just like the RIAA vs the file-sharers. The RIAA is (still) using a centralized strategy to "fight" a decentralized enemy. Clearly, suing grandmothers - even if it notches up the expected cost of filesharing a few bucks - is never going to be an effective tool to fight a universe of file-sharers; there are simply too many of them, and a lot of them will pretty much always find it worthwhile to share files.

NB - if you want to comment, please try and stick to strategy over pure politics, this is not really about Israel/Hezbollah/Lebanon, but rather about the flawed approach to the War on Turra in general.

If I wanted to get political, I would note that Bush + cronies profit enormously/personally from terrorism.

-- umair // 12:21 PM //

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Future of Media, Consultants Edition

Don't miss Deloitte's awesomely lame list of media trends for '06 (especially number 10).

-- umair // 6:33 PM //


Strategy and Antistrategy

A quick note. Many discussions I've been having recently with corporate clients go something like this.

Me: Nice to meet you. So, what's your big picture, long-run strategy?
Boardroom Guys: Uhh...we're gonna penetrate emerging markets!!!
Me: Let me guess, India, China, and then the rest?
BG: Yup!! Isn't that cool!!?? Don't tell anyone!�!!!%%%
Me: Well...yes...no...see, it's not really a strategy...

The point is that simply choosing to somehow target "growth" by investing in, well, growing markets is not exactly a strategy - especially when everyone else is doing it.

Too many firms these days are looking hungrily east, without thinking about the very basic who, what, how, why that should guide the firm.

-- umair // 1:26 PM //


Politics of the Day: Institutionalized Racism Edition

A nice example of how the media creates and then promotes the view that all brown people are terrorists:

"...HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: The media and the Mideast. As the death toll rises in Israel and Lebanon, are journalists being fair to both sides? How do they verify Hezbollah's claims that civilians are being indiscriminately killed?"

Bolding's mine. The rather obvious point is that it's not exactly Hezbollah who's claiming of civilian deaths on a massive scale - it's also uhhh....the Lebanese government, the UN, numerous reporters on the ground, etc.

Now, Kurtz is trying a simple tactic here. By telling us that it's only Hezbollah claims alone claims this, he cleverly creates a deeply racist implication that the reader almost unwittingly accepts: that the claims of organizations made up of brown people, whether Hezbollah, the Lebanese government, Al-Jazeera, etc, should never be taken seriously; and that in fact, they are on equivalent ground in terms of credibility, authority, etc.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

This is nothing more - and nothing less - than institutional racism. As a brown person, I find it enormously troubling. But I've grown up having to read this kind of drivel in every American newspaper under the sun - and at the most respected institutions in the land.

Consider Niall Ferguson, who argues that Muslims are "colonizing" Europe.

How beautiful is that - did you get the Rovian-ness of it? It's that, of course, Europe was the great colonial force of history.

But more to the point: wouldn't it be racist of me to say something like about anyone else - ie the Chinese, the Jews, the Africans, the Germans, are "colonizing" a place? Wouldn't it be racist of me to say that the Romanians and Bulgarians wish to "colonize" the EU?

Of course it would. But we give a free pass to racism against brown people - and especially muslims - every single day. It's wrong, and I don't enjoy doing it, because it is certain to cost me more than it benefits me, but the time has come that I feel that I have to speak up against it.

So here's a simple example. Imho, this is one of the biggest reasons America can't seem to get along with the world - unlike in most other civilized countries, American media is chock full of morons, idiots, generally odious people, and...racists.

-- umair // 1:05 PM //



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