Wednesday, October 06, 2010
The Art of Creating the Future
In 2006-ish, when I started discussing the idea of a catastrophic global financial meltdown, many of who you are regular readers were understandably skeptical.
In 2007-ish, when I started discussing how ethical choices (aka "evil") lived in the institutional DNA of companies (like Facebook), and that poor ethical choices would end up creating subprime economics, collapsing the nascent ecosystem, many of you were understandably skeptical.
In 2008-ish, when I started discussing how the catastrophic global financial meltdown wasn't a humdrum recession--but a turning point for capitalism--many of you were understandably skeptical.
All of which brings me to today.
Lately, both here, on Twitter, and at my HBR blog, I've been discussing a set of new concepts. I have a hunch: many of you think they're self-indulgent bullshit. Purpose, perseverance, ambition, passion, wisdom, institutions, deeper values, meaning, significance--what good are these? How can they help me "profit", "win", and gain "advantage"? It sounds like a boatload of bullshit.
The answer is: they can't. At least not on yesterday's terms. What they can help you do is redefine "profit", "winning", and "advantage"--to create tomorrow's terms.
And that's the point. I'm suggesting in no uncertain terms that business as we know it is obsolete, that strategy is a commodity, that yesterday's sources of advantage are devalued and decrepit, that capitalism as we know it is on the precipice of transformation, and so--most of what you think, know, practice, and believe is going to have to be radically, dramatically unlearned over the next decade, if you want to survive and thrive.
Let me connect the dots, then. My position today, like it was yesterday, is challenging and uncompromising--it's about creating a better tomorrow. Like, if you note the short history of ideas I started this post with, it's always been.
Just like all the above probably seemed like self-indulgent bullshit when I raised it, so today's self-indulgent bullshit might just turn into tomorrow's conventional wisdom. Of course, by then, if you're still behind the curve--well, then you'll probably be history.
Hi Umair, how's it going?
It's not that you're being self-indulgent, it's that you suddenly sound like a cross between Bill and Ted, and the Little Book of Calm.
It's a tricky transition from pointing out what's wrong (which you have a serious talent for) and suggesting what to do about it... so it tends to go a bit Bill-and-Teddy. "Awesome" doesn't mean anything. It doesn't describe the practical mechanics of what should be done.
Which is (I suspect) why you decided to crowd-source it. It's a tough one... it's a tough one until you hit the core, sublimating catalyst that allows all of the pieces to fall into a new configuration... and it may just be that there isn't such a catalyst. If there is though, my money would be on Douglas Rushkoff's take on Fiat Currency. He's a clever guy - and sometimes he's right, and sometimes he's wrong... but the inherent architectural-flaw in the foundations of fiat currency kindof hits a nerve I think.
A value-system in which the tokens of "value" are loaned into existence (at interest) as a scarce resource, is going to have some pretty ugly characteristics - it pressures people into pretending that everything is scarce... into "making" things scarce. It doesn't reflect reality - or the laws of thermodynamics, or even simple morality. But it's a hard box to think outside of, because we've lived under it forever.
So... abundance is a threat to organisations predicated on scarcity; scarcity on the other hand is a threat to individuals.
And suddenly we've got a load more abundance - because the web has created a massive amplification of this un-monetiseable, unquantifiable value-system that operates at right-angles to "scarcity-currency"... in which people do things for fun, meaning, social-contract etc etc. I don't have a word for it. "Attention Economy" is a pathetic attempt to get outside the box concepts back into the box again.
Anyway, at the same time as that, we've got a classic fall-of-roman-empire scenario, where democracies everywhere are being englobulated by the corporate-praetorians... at the same time as we're hitting walls of genuine scarcity that negate the narratives of the corporate-praetorians. It's the textbook fall of empire blueprint.
It's complicated - until you hit the sublimating catalyst (which might not exist)
I've got this theory: "if the answer to a question is complicated, it's not the right question". My starting point for simplicity would be to question what money is actually for... a mechanism for allocating scarce resources... and you know... question that.
So... I don't think you're being self-indulgent, I think you need to go deeper (deeper than Louis XV)- to get the clarity you need to not sound like Bill and Ted.
...but you know - that's just me indulging myself. Don't mind me, I'm as confused as anyone.
// Nick Taylor // 1:26 AM
I suspect part of the problem is that that you (and we) don't yet know what form some of these new institution, norms and definitions will take - an "I don't know what it is, but I'll know it when I see it" sort of thing. Your other problem is that taking any individual post (or even a relatively small number of them) can leave the impression that you are a naive idealist (I was guilty of it for a while - but I AM a naive idealist, so I hung in :) ) - it's only over a longer period/more posts (here and at HBR) that the picture builds up, and some examples also become evident. Examples help, because even if we hold the same ideals/notions about what future prosperity might come from, at the moment our imaginations will hold something very different (not better or worse, just different).
Because of that difference in imaginations, I think you should remain non-prescriptive about the form "thicker value" might take, because you don't want to close down (e.g.) my imagination, or anyone else's, in the process of creating it.
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