LinkedIn and the power of networks

it's not the students that keep us young, it's all the stairs
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it's not the students that keep us young, it's all the stairs

I used to think of LinkedIn as a boring but worthy social network for business contacts. But I was wrong.

Over the years it has become a critical B2B social network, with multi-million dollar deals often being done via the platform.

LinkedIn has also disrupted the recruitment business and reshaped the way people find jobs. It changed the power dynamic in recruitment by enabling the jobs to find people. Clever recruiters embraced LinkedIn early. The rest clung to their clunky old proprietary resume databases.

With the recent acquisition of Lynda.com, the reach of LinkedIn looks like growing into training and education. This is a more interesting play than MOOCs from an education perspective.

Remembering my LinkedIn story

Last night I caught up with a longstanding buddy, Des Walsh, as he visited Sydney. Des is a doyen of social media in Australia, as well as being a passionate networker and executive coach.

As we chatted I finally remembered to tell him the story of how one of his ideas helped me to get a great job.

LinkedIn ’30 day blitz’

Back in late 2012 Des contacted a diverse bunch of folks who were active on social media, noting that LinkedIn was our ‘orphan’ social network. He was right, most of us were enamoured with other sexier social media platforms. We were all members of LinkedIn, but at that time none of us were particularly active there, nor were our profiles up to date.

Des setup a social network challenge for November 2012, rounding up a diverse group to take part in a month of LinkedIn activity.

The concept was simple – “A collaborative project, in which each participant commits to take action on his/her LinkedIn presence and activity, over a 30 day period.” – 30 Day Linking Blitz.

I signed up for the blitz, and started with updating my LinkedIn profile with previous work and a decent profile picture.

The results were immediate

Almost immediately after that I was contacted by a recruiter. The recruiter had been trying for almost a year to find a candidate for a role that called for a diverse mix of skills. She explained that my name had popped up in her LinkedIn search that morning.

The rest is history. I interviewed for the role at UNSW Australia, where I’ve been working happily since then. All thanks to Des and his 30 Day LinkedIn Blitz.

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The future of business is the future of technology

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Recently Rebecca Nash from ABC’s The Business asked me to consider the future of business over the next decade. Here’s some thoughts from that conversation.

The future of business has always been driven by developments in technology, and the digital revolution is of equivalent substance to the previous industrial revolution. This has important implications for the future of business.

Manufacturing will not die but it will change

Manufacturing used to be about employing large numbers of people in relatively low skilled jobs. However, this has been declining for many years with the introduction of robotics and automated production lines.  Automation of production lines is already highly advanced, but now we will see new approaches to how things are constructed. This trend in manufacturing employment will continue with the introduction of technologies such as 3D printing.

One  of the possibilities arising from 3D printing is enabling mass customization. A good example of this is shoe production via 3D printing, Australian startup Shoes of Prey is already using this technology. Another compelling application of 3D printing is in medical solutions like this: 3D printer gives disabled girl “magic arms” exoskeleton. Although it is important to note that the technology can be used for other purposes too for example, the ability to create a weapon.

Changed competitive landscape

The digital revolution is also leveling the playing field between competitors, and being large is less advantageous than previously. Smaller competitors can form loose coalitions that provide similar scale to a larger organization without the need for capital intensive setup.

We are likely to see a reduction in the market power of big players. Some traditional businesses will fail to scan the environment and detect shifts in the consumer environment. A good example of this is the differences in adoption of new technology and business models and its impact on the performance of competitors Kogan and Harvey Norman.

New internet

Another game changer is the internet of things – things knowing information about themselves and talking to each other, and enabling us to interact with them.  Thus metadata becomes increasingly important and enables the continued development of augmented reality applications such as those made possible by technologies such as Google Glass.

The internet of things will be enabled by wirelessly connected sensor technology. An interesting example of this is DNA tags as used by ethical Australian timber company Simmonds Lumber to help stamp out illegal logging. Yet this technology will have important ramifications for our personal privacy too – we will be asked to trade-off convenience for privacy.

Cost shifting to lower cost regions will continue – but those regions may change as economic shifts happen in the developed world.  That is, due to economic shifts, developed countries may evolve as lower labour cost regions.

Changing customer landscape

Power relations between business and consumers are shifting, and the shift is toward empowerment of consumers. This requires new attitudes and responses from business, and this requires customer insight which is provided by good data. Data will increasingly drive decision making and the making of meaning within businesses.

New approaches – loose coupling

Innovation will be powered by loosely coupled technical components that are joined up with loosely coupled business components. Even large businesses will need to find ways of being nimble and agile, to develop the ability to pivot rapidly in response to environmental changes.

Change cycles will increase in rapidity so businesses will need to constantly scan the external environment to assess and adapt.

Organizations will need to develop skills in entrepreneurship as an internal capability to drive innovation. If access to credit or capital becomes constrained then organic growth capability will be critical for business. Further, the ability to partner effectively with other organizations will also be critical to growth.

Effective use of resources becomes critical

Sustainability will continue to grow in importance, not just to save the environment. Sustainability will be important from both a cost control and environmental perspective.

Access to natural resources that we take for granted – such as water or petrochemicals – will become increasingly competitive.  And access to other resources needed to grow a business are also likely to be problematic.  A good example is access to credit.

New ways of doing traditional things like eduction and work

Schools and universities will not need to look like they do now. The need for large places enormous investments in physical infrastructure are no longer necessary to perform the task of eduction.  Online education and collaboration technologies mean that we do not necessarily need to ‘go’ to school in the way we do now.

This has implications for society and business. We currently use schools as a holding bay for children while their parents are working at the office 9-5.  If young people no longer need to attend school in a physical sense then how will their parents manage, and what impact will this have on the traditional workplace?

Also the need for workers to be physically present at an office to do their work will reduce. Better communications and presence technology means that adults will also be able to work from other locations than the traditional office. Some good examples of the evolution of co-working in Australia are Hub Melbourne, or Vibewire and Fishburners in Sydney.

This will drive changes in the ways that organisations design and define their physical footprint. It also means significant changes for currently viable business models such as building and renting commercial real estate.

Yet human beings still need interaction with others. Our young people need to interact with each other physically to evolve as human beings. Adults need to connect with each other in the work context.  We have a strong social drive and these needs still need to be met.

It is likely that localised co-working spaces will continue to evolve as solutions to this need for human contact and affiliation.  No longer will we head, lemming-like, to a corporate office in the city, instead we will head to the local co-working space where we can connect virtually with our colleagues.

Rise of collaborative models – leisure, work, competition

This does not mean that competition will disappear, however it will change.  Due to increasingly scarce resources collaboration will become more important for business. Further, the question of why a business needs to do everything for itself will become important. With cloud and ubiquitous connections to the network partnering with best-of-breed service providers will be easier.

In the personal sphere collaboration is likely to increase too.  And the change will be driven by similar considerations to business.  For example, why own a car when you don’t need one all the time, especially if you can get access to one whenever you need it?

Shared resources – cars, tools, etc – will make increasing sense to people and shift the consumer culture from one of product acquisition to service adoption. Some good examples of existing collaborative consumption models include Open Shed and 99 Dresses.

The future is a distant country*

Some of my prognostications will be wrong in their particulars. But the technology trends are clear. The next decade will see the rise of new businesses fuelled by technologies that don’t exist yet.  The job I do for a living did not exist when I left school. The industry I work in did not exist at the start of my career. I can see no reason why those trends will change in future. We need to be open to the new opportunities and accept that things move faster now.
* with apologies to L.P. Hartley

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Real time, right time – it’s all about ‘me’ – so what about Twitter?

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A recent article The Future of Mobile is Right Time Experiences by Maribel Lopez got me thinking about mobile and the future of the web.

It is an especially important topic to consider now that Twitter is seeking to further control and constrain the way that its users interact. A good outline of the issues at play here is Nick Bilton’s piece: For Twitter-Owned Apps and Sites, a Cacophony of Confusion.

At Web 2.0 Summit 2011 (video) Twitter CEO, Dick Costolo, noted that he is inspired and ‘mentored’ by Apple. Any admiration for Apple and the way it does business is likely to be coupled with a desire to control the user experience.

The interesting thing to note is that control of the end user experience has never been a big part of the Twitter world. Instead their strength, and indeed a reason for their survival to date, has been a willingness to throw open their doors to a broad app ecosystem.  Further, significant innovations that have improved Twitter (e.g. hashtags) have come from the community and have been adopted by the company.

But Twitter is a company that is growing up, emerging from its startup phase and evolving into a ‘real’ business.  ‘Real’ businesses do things like consolidate infrastructure to better manage costs, and they seek to add layers of management control over the business.

This desire to control the user experience is fairly typical of a ‘real’ business.  It signifies the development of an organisation that is developing a command and control structure typical of the late twentieth century.

The problem is that end users of the platform have started to evolve beyond command and control models. We are using many different devices – PCs, tablets, smart phones – and we use them as we need and in different contexts.  We do not necessarily want the same experience across each device we use. Increasingly we are using a mobile rather than a fixed device, even in the home or office.

What we do want is the right experience in the right context.  We are hungry for a kind of ‘just right’ interaction with our favourite platforms. And we also seek to remove friction from our online interactions.  We flinch away from interactions that are scratchy, our friends say ‘come over here, it’s better and easier’, we use the power of our social networks to seek out the newest way to improve our online existence.

This means that the API revolution has arrived at just the right time to meet user needs.  And it means that businesses that resist the desire to exert absolute control over the user experience can harness a vibrant API ecosystem to power their business.

I think that consistency of user experience across multiple platforms is overrated. But I do wholeheartedly encourage consistency in APIs so as to enable rich user experiences that drive engagement on the user’s terms.

Businesses that fail to realise that the command and control world of the late twentieth century is dying risk killing their businesses.  It is already happening with the news media. It can happen with newer businesses too, such as social networks. As Mark Pesce noted we face a business environment that is “fast, frictionless, and on fire“.

Note: I had a brief chat about the recent changes to the Twitter consumer app ecosystem with Stilgherrian, Leslie Nassar, and Henare Degan on the Patch Monday podcast, one imagines it will be up on the ZDnet site in the fulness of time.

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What will change the world? Welcome to the hive mind of Twitter.

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One of the things I love about Twitter is the way it enables serendipity on a grand scale.  Recently, I can’t remember how, I ran across @blogbrevity (a.k.a Angela Dunn) whose Twitter feed resonated with me and we followed each other.

On June 9th she invited me to join #Ideachat – Twitter Chat & Salon for Twitter Thinkers About “Ideas”. The topic for discussion was “What is the one long-term trend that will change the world?“. As food for thought Angela shared an interview with trend expert and curator Cecile Poignant of TrendTablet.

This topic fascinates me and it aligns nicely with other interests, like Social Innovation Sydney. Also the more that people start to talk and think about things like this then the more likely we are to take action.

The chat was dynamic and thought provoking.  And it got me thinking.

One of the recurring ideas was collective action, and some of the themes are nicely summed up in these tweets:


I started to realise that the big trend is something that enables the self organizing of co-creation. The big trend is the evolution of the hive mind.  It is only with social communication platforms like Twitter that something akin to a hive mind can emerge.

The always on and ambiently connected nature of Twitter is ideal for the emergence of a hive mind.  We begin to shed our privacy and to live within the omnipresent gaze of the group. We are connected into the minutiae of other people’s lives in ways that were not possible before.  We are connected to people in distant places and to the events that occur in their orbit as well as in our own.

Here the very minutiae of chats on Twitter, that so many disparage mindlessly, are important in creating the connections of the hive mind.

Once one becomes accustomed to the continual connection, to knowing the news before it makes the news media, to finding answers to questions faster and better than a search engine, then the connection to the hive mind comes to seem normal.

Then from the connection to the hive mind, one begins to sift out those individuals and groups who hold similar ideas and beliefs.  And from that pool of people the self organization and co-creation can begin.

Some people will try to tell us that feeling weird and strangely out of touch when disconnected from the hive mind is a kind of psychopathology. But they have not yet understood or experienced the new reality of constant ambient connection to the hive mind.

Nor have they seen the results of loose ties in action, network amplification of communication, the reciprocal knowledge engine, and the power of a hive mind working together to co-create change. I suspect that this is just over the horizon.

UPDATE 15 June 2012


Following are a few recent posts that have informed my thinking on this topic:

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What’s the big idea with social media? #media140

Media 140 Perth 2012
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I was lucky enough to be invited to Media 140 in Perth recently to discuss what the ‘big idea’ is with social media.

The idea was for a context setting discussion about social media and how it is changing business and society.

DIGITAL REVOLUTION
We are living through a digital revolution that is changing the world we inhabit as absolutely and as irrevocably as the industrial revolution of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

That previous industrial revolution changed our relationship with time, with money, and with people. It created the wage labourer that we know, and the unions whom we’ve to come know encapsulated by the term ‘organised labour’. It created a society governed by the mechanical clock and the notion of work versus non-work time.

The digital revolution is on a similar scale, and this scale is based on a remarkable shift in the means of production. The digital revolution has at its roots a democratization of access to the means of communication.

EXPECTATIONS AND ACCESS TO COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY
As a result we are seeing a shift in the expectations of ordinary people about communications technology and their access to that technology. Further, we are seeing a rapid evolution of behaviour in relation to communications technology – mainly in the use of smartphones and tablets.

All of this is leading us to significant shifts in society, and it is all fuelled by innovations in communications devices. The smartphone and almost ubiquitous access to the internet have created a new baseline expectation in people that they will always be connected. I have often argued that with Twitter we are seeing the genesis of the hive mind of humanity.

The digital divide is no longer about access to technology – as my friend Mark Pesce notes, even poor fishermen in Kerala have access – it’s about your willingness or desire to be connected.

However, people are finding enormous utility in being always connected. For example, the number of ereaders in the hands of people is growing enormously, doubling since July 2011. And an example of a behavioural shift afforded by the technology is the growth in women’s erotic fiction sales. Romance novels have always been a big business globally, but a recent sales data indicates a substantial growth in sales of erotica (the so-called ‘guilty pleasures’ factor) that has been fuelled by the anonymity offered by ereaders.

As long ago as 2008 Australia mobile phone subscribers outnumber people according to ACMA data. This means that individuals have more than one device connected to the mobile phone network.

SOCIAL MEDIA, SOCIAL BUSINESS
Along with this embrace of ubiquitous mobile connectivity we have seen the growth of social media and social networking. This growth of social media is part of the landscape that makes up the digital revolution. Social media is revolutionary because it empowers the populace with access to the means of communication that were once the province of rich media barons.

This growth in social media fuelled by mobile connectivity has also changed the business landscape in important ways. There is a shift from command-control and pipeline driven businesses to social business that is focused on continuous engagement and conversations.

The kind of new business opportunities enabled by this digital revolution include:

  • the ability to compete in a new geography without even opening a local store (like Amazon);
  • the opportunity to reduce complexity for customers and remove friction from business operations (like Telstra);
  • subverting traditional models like recruitment where businesses build online talent banks of people who are interested in working with them (like Deloitte).

However, the shifts in society are not limited to business and consumers. They are also changing some things that we have always accepted. For example, we have always assumed that there is a just and valid separation between the domains of public versus private, or between business versus personal. But now those verities are being shaken by social media and social networking.

Social media is blurring the boundaries between the public, private, business, and personal. We are still working out how to negotiate this new territory. But already we see reports of people turned down for jobs because their online reputation score was too low.

We are now seeing a world where reputation is created, maintained, and mediated by online channels. There are increasing tools for measuring reputation online, such as: Kred, Klout, and Peer Index. Bouncers are even reportedly using Facebook as an identification check for entry into nightspots according to the BBC.

SOCIAL WORKPLACES
Workplaces are changing too, partly in response to the digital revolution. Open plan offices with collaboration spaces and hot desks are enabled because of wifi and portable connected devices like laptops and tablets.

SOCIAL EDUCATION
Our schools and places of education are being swept along by this digital revolution as well. With schools handing out laptops to all students and wifi in schools, libraries, and on public transport our children inhabit an always connected landscape. A teen boy said to me recently of my complaints about the poor wifi in Sydney: “but it’s just in the air, it’s everywhere”. It is a good example of the world that our young people inhabit. They live in a world where the connectivity is just ‘in the air’ around them.

The physical changes in workplaces are being reflected in schools too. They are becoming focused on collaboration rather than rote learning of facts. Students are learning how to discover, assess, and synthesize information rather than memorize facts.

WTF?
When we put together the shifting physical nature of the workplace and schools together with the blurring boundaries between public- private-business-personal, and the always connected devices in the hands of individuals many opportunities and challenges arise.

It is an exciting time to live. We are living through a revolution. The real question is will we drive the revolution or let it just happen to us?

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Authenticity online – not necessary, perhaps essential or Kitteh vs Chickin

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This talk by Bitly’s Matt LeMay at Monki Gras entitled: Kitteh vs Chickin: How What We Share is Different from What we Click is important and is really worth watching.

This talk gives us some really important insights into the changed world we now inhabit.  The world in which our passing fancies and offhand comments were written on the wind has passed into history.  Now most things that we click or share online are recorded and ready for analysis.

Matt draws out the point that our real selves – the ones  who listen to Lady Gaga or Katie Perry and then delete them from our scrobbles – are revealed by our online activities.

As Jung suggested, it might be time to embrace our shadow (or as Matt LeMay suggests, learn to be okay with being a kitteh).

I commend this video to you, it presents important concepts in a really engaging way.

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There's a fraction too much friction! Customers, service, and staff.

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While trawling around on YouTube recently I came across a 1980s video of Tim Finn’s There’s a Fraction too much Friction and it got me thinking about the things that annoy me  in dealing with businesses. I concluded that the source of my irritation is friction.

I have long observed that business has many things in common with war, and friction is probably the thing that most comes to mind as significant in both business and war.

The problem with friction is nicely put by Clausewitz:

“Everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult. The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction that is inconceivable unless one has experienced war.”

This description of the effects of friction in war are eerily reminiscent of dealing with a large business (say for example, one of our large telecommunications companies).

The huge opportunity that the digital revolution offers is to remove friction between different parts of businesses – between customers and staff, between operational silos within the organisation, between groups who are internal and external to the organisation.

Organisations that see and act on this opportunity are the ones that will triumph in the hyperconnected future.

People who see a dedicated niche that they can service seamlessly and effectively will grow their businesses almost without trying, and customers will flock to them.

In this milieu the one-stop-shops that try to do everything – those who previously leveraged scale and centralization – are likely to suffer.  This is because scale creates and does not reduce friction. Only in the past when the friction in having services and products delivered from many smaller suppliers was so great did the one-stop-shops have an advantage.

But now even small organisations can remove friction and deliver seamlessly to their customers using web and mobile applications.

Now organisations are liberated to serve customers in ways that were impossible before ubiquitous internet connected mobile devices.

Big companies that are not already offering effective online services are the new dinosaurs.  It will take only the slightest change in their terrestrial trading conditions for them to sicken and die. Two examples of this phenomenon  worth keeping an eye on are Harvey Norman and David Jones . It will be very interesting to see if they can evolve their business models sufficiently fast to survive.

Reduced information asymmetry is another opportunity offered by this reduction in friction.  In the past companies, especially retailers, had better information about pricing of the good they sold.  Now this asymmetry in access to pricing information is dying. A recent tweet from my friend Mark Pesce exemplifies this new trend:

And US retailer J.C. Penney recently launched a new pricing model:

“J.C. Penney (JCP) is permanently marking down all of its merchandise by at least 40% so shoppers will no longer have to wait for a sale to get the lowest prices in its stores.

Penney said Wednesday that it is getting rid of the hundreds of sales it offers each year in favor of a simpler approach to pricing. On Feb. 1, the retailer is rolling out a three-tiered strategy that offers “Every Day” low pricing daily, “Monthly Value” discounts on select merchandise each month and clearance deals called “Best Price” during the first and the third Friday of each month when many shoppers get paid.”

Source: Daily Finance, 25 Jan 2012 

The results of this pricing experiment are just starting to flow in.  There has been an initial drop in sales revenue but analysts note:

“We believe our findings demonstrate that the strategies announced to transform (Penney’s) business are the right actions to take and will resonate well with consumers over time” (Source: MSNBC, Penney’s pricing strategy takes a toll on sales, 30 Mar 2012)

Against this backdrop it is amusing to see an Australian retailer’s response to market conditions – “David Jones Outlines Strategic Plan to Cut Costs” along with their very late in the day online shopping initiatives. It is especially amusing when one observes one of their chief competitors, Net-a-Porter – saying:

“It’s very easy to copy the look and feel, which people have helped themselves generously to,” Massenet said. “But we have 12 years of building ahead [of other sites] and we are sending out 5,000 orders a day as opposed to 20 orders a day and I think it’s very difficult for a business to keep up with that operationally.”

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, How to create an e-empire, 29 Mar 2012

Net-a-Porter is an excellent example of an organisation that has nailed servicing a niche, delivering good product, and ensuring a good customer experience supported by excellent customer service.

The bar has well and truly been raised for traditional organisations. And only those who work out how to reduce friction and deliver seamless service will survive.

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Connectedness – it's not just a technology thing, it's a people thing

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For many years now my friends, colleagues and I have been talking and thinking about the hyperconnections made available to us by the growth of the internet, telecommunications devices and networks, and social platforms. For a good background on it check out Mark Pesce and Ross Dawson.

But I think that we have reached a state in our evolution as human where the practices of hyperconnectivity have changed the way we are doing, being, and thinking.

Connectedness is no longer about technology it is about people. Our need for connectedness is beginning to transcend the technology. I believe that, even if the internet disappeared tomorrow, our desire for and expectation of connectedness would continue and that the behaviours engendered by the internet will remain to be expressed.

Ian Shafer summed it up nicely recently:

“I think this whole notion of connectedness is more a state of human evolution than rather a generational thing.”
from: Ian Shafer, in Generation C: A new demographic label for marketers by Kai Ryssdal, 24 Feb 2012

Movements like #Occupy and the Arab Spring around the world show that people connecting is more than just a technology thing, although technology has amplified the ability of people to connect across distance.

Human beings don’t want to just engage and connect with brands, a desire to create a world better suited for the beings that inhabit it (and their progeny) is growing and we see real life communities growing.

A good example of this Social Innovation Sydney. It started online but this community connects in real life meetups and the human network creates connections, relationships, and activities far beyond the initial starting point.

If the internet disappears tomorrow how will you be able to find your tribe?

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The evolving power shift and our hyperconnected society

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As we move away from the power structures and ways of thinking that governed the twentieth century we are seeing a desperate rearguard action from the power elites who ruled that time.

Dying Dinosaur Industries in their Death Throes

A good example of this is the film and music industries, whose centralized model of creation and distribution is breaking down.

The proposed US anti-piracy legislation to protect film, music and other intellectual property from unauthorized distribution – SOPA in the House and PIPA in the Senate – has shown deep divides between modern hyperconnected businesses and old world centralized, command-control industries. And it is now reported that the SOPA bill has been shelved after global protests from Google, Wikipedia and others.

The rearguard action by the old industries is also clear in threats against those who fail to support the old industries:

“Consumer group Public Knowledge on Friday accused the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and its head, former Sen. Chris Dodd, of trying to intimidate lawmakers into supporting a pair of controversial anti-piracy bills.

In recent days, Dodd and other top Hollywood figures have threatened to cut off campaign donations to politicians who do not support their effort to crackdown on online copyright infringement.”

Source: The Hill: Consumer group accuses Hollywood of ‘threatening politicians’, by Brendan Sasso, 01/20/12 04:08 PM ET

We are seeing increased efforts from the old guard to control people and their communication. But the genie of a hyperconnected populace is out of the bottle. And it cannot be put back. Even if they remove the internet as we know it – free flowing and accessible to all – we will invoke Gilmore’s Law and route around that damage

The Economy and the Death of the Western Middle Class

The death of these old industries has important implications for society. These industries enabled the creation of a well-off middle class in the latter half of the twentieth century.

But with the digital revolution many the economic drivers that created the twentieth century middle class have disppeared, as outlined in this article about Apple and US jobs.

And even in Australia we are seeing the gradual shift of middle class jobs overseas, as in this recent example from Westpac, Ultimate insult: Sacked Westpac workers forced to train replacements.

It is becoming apparent that even new businesses no longer guarantee jobs like they used to. For example: ‘No new jobs, dollars’ in bulk stores.

The truth about job creation is only now beginning to dawn on us, and we are seeing the inevitable social and economic consequences of transferring work from high cost to low cost economies.

People are even starting to ponder which jobs will disappear next – for example Will these 10 jobs disappear in 2012?

The old industries employed sufficient numbers of the western populace to keep them in comfortable consumerist peace. Their children could afford an education and thus improve their lot in life. The idea that each generation would be materially better off than the previous seemed unassailable.

But now it seems that truth might no longer hold. The #Occupy movement is seeking to bring attention to the economic bifurcation of society between the the very well-to-do and the strugglers.

Embracing the Future

Those who are not trapped in the old model are embracing the evolving world that is fuelled by the digital revolution. They are accepting the dispersed, decentralized, and peer-to-peer future.  The old intermediaries are dying (or are in their death throes), and in their place new ones are arising.

The future is about human beings  connecting with each other. It is about collaboration and cooperation. It is about sustainable growth. And it is about making space for people to create new possibilities unconstrained by the behemoths of centralized command and control.

Author Paulo Coelho summed it up nicely on his blog recently:

“As an author, I should be defending ‘intellectual property’, but I’m not.

Pirates of the world, unite and pirate everything I’ve ever written!

The good old days, when each idea had an owner, are gone forever.

First, because all anyone ever does is recycle the same four themes: a love story between two people, a love triangle, the struggle for power, and the story of a journey.

Second, because all writers want what they write to be read, whether in a newspaper, blog, pamphlet, or on a wall.

The more often we hear a song on the radio, the keener we are to buy the CD. It’s the same with literature.

The more people ‘pirate’ a book, the better. If they like the beginning, they’ll buy the whole book the next day, because there’s nothing more tiring than reading long screeds of text on a computer screen.”

Source: My thoughts on S.O.P.A. by Paulo Coelho on January 20, 2012

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A tech revolution that changes the way we organize work & the danger of digital serfdom

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The old style company, that is the company circa 1880-2000, had firm boundaries and fixed hierarchies in order to function efficiently. But with the advent of digital technology and the consumer social computing revolution there is a seismic shift in how technology is used within companies. There are also significant changes in worker expectations and, as a corollary, companies are changing their demands upon workers. Huge power shifts are underway and it is important that we start analyzing them now.

The Past

The technology that enabled communication and control of large and dispersed groups of workers was inefficient and required supplementation by human resources in the form a supervisory and managerial hierarchy. Computer resources were initially tightly held by a few individuals within an organisation due to their high capital cost to acquire. And companies had access to much better technology resources than the average individual could ever hope to acquire.

For example, in 1956 a 5MB hard drive from IBM cost US$50,000, and in 1981 a 5MB Apple hard drive cost US$3,500. At prices like these the average person had little opportunity to acquire such technology.

It was this technology asymmetry that also contributed to the non-porous boundaries of the firm. Information stayed inside the firm and was not easy to share. Instead companies were in charge of their information and shared it only on their own terms. And usually that sharing of information occurred through bought or earned media and through ‘official’ news media channels.

The Present and Near Future

Today companies are grappling with the huge shifts in communications. Newspapers and other news media no longer hold the preeminent position they once held. Corporate communications are no longer about faxing out a press release.  Companies are developing their owned media resources and learning to use the diverse earned media opportunities available now via the internet.

Increasingly companies are requiring workers to develop their own social media and social networking personas on behalf of the company.   Also workers are being required to manage corporate social media channels as part of their jobs.  One challenge with this shift in work to social media channels is that they often need tending 24×7. Thus other workers are beginning to feel the operational demands of 24x7x365 operations that those of us in the IT department have felt for many years now.

Another shift is the control over technology within an organisation. In the past centralized control of technology resources was easy due to high cost and complexity to implement. But now with cloud computing as a commoditized service we see the real risk that other departments can go around centralized procurement and IT to implement whatever takes their fancy.

Gartner has just released their vision for 2012 and note that in 2012 we can expect more cloud and consumerization, less IT control.

Increasingly we are seeing workers bringing their own technology into the workplace – smart phones, tablets, and social computing. And articles directed at CIOs are saying: IT’s future: Bring your own PC-tablet-phone to work.

Thus we are at the beginning of a technology revolution in the office that will see the centralized control that was necessary to achieve economies of scale in the last century wane.

Instead we will see the growth of decentralization driven by cost and user demand pressures.  We will also see increased attempts to control behaviour through data and  monitoring due to the growth in the panopticon as I’ve discussed previously.

The Dangers of Digital Serfdom

My buddy Ray Wang posted recently on the right to be offline. We are facing a world of hyperconnectedness in which we can evolve into digital serfs tethered by our digital devices and an un-free as a slave in ancient times.

The risk is that the boundaries between work and personal time become so blurred that they cease to exist. The risk is that employers consider that, with a wage, they have bought our time as and when they choose to consume it any time of the day or night.

The moves to remove penalty rates for IT workers and others also support this trend. Once the unit cost of a worker is standardized an employer does not care what time of day or night they work.

I cannot articulate the concern we should have for retaining this right to be offline any better than Ray:

“There is one thing that I am very worried about actually, is I think it is of the uttermost importance that we preserve the right to be offline. If we don’t preserve that we’ll loose all our freedoms. It starts with ability to be able to escape … of being offline. And so we can be punished for not being offline. For not being online we cannot be punished. It’s happening right now. We are recreating Skynet, we are recreating Matrix, we are recreating all the things that we would fear on our own. And if we can’t protect that basic right of being able to be offline, and being able to conduct a life offline, we’re in trouble. We are in big trouble.”

I commend Ray’s thoughts to you, check out his video:

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