How do we create and share value in a jobless economy?

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Jeff Jarvis sparked my thinking on this recently with his post on The Jobless Future. As Jeff so bluntly stated:

“We’re not going to have a jobless recovery. We’re going to have a jobless future.

Holding out blind hope for the magical appearance of new jobs and the reappearance of growth in the economy is a fool’s faith.”

If that is the case in the US, and we have riots on the streets in the UK, Spain, Greece, north Africa and the middle east, then things are not looking good in large portions of the world. There will likely be flow on economic and social effects around the world, especially since Richard Florida is pondering if riots could come to Canada too.

Nouriel Roubini may be right in his assertion that “Karl Marx had it right. At some point, Capitalism can destroy itself.”

The inherent instability of markets in the US and Europe mean that jobs are going to be harder to come by, especially for the less educated and the less skilled.

All of this got me thinking about what skills are really useful in this new world that is developing before our eyes? What kinds of businesses and communities will be more resilient in the face of changing economic verities? How do we need to recast our expectations and aspirations for this new world that is unfolding?

That kind of thinking led me over to John Robb’s blog and one of his recent posts, Entrepreneurs and Open Source Hardware. Perhaps we are all about to become open source entrepreneurs?

The kind of economic environment that is emerging is one where sustainable and ethical business models can come into their own. Not large scale, top-down, industrial operations. Rather there is an opportunity to develop peer-to-peer and networked organisations. Social innovation, social enterprise and ideas like collaborative consumption become significant, and a return to older ways of organising businesses – like co-operatives and mutual associations – become critical.

We also need to find ways to create and exchange value in an environment where traditional mechanisms might no longer be available to us. This means creation of new means of value exchange, or even new kinds of currencies. Reverting to gold is not really feasible, after all it’s rather heavy to tote around. Thus virtual currencies might even come to replace some of the existing ones

If you consider it unbelievable that major currencies can fail then it’s time to go read some history. Just to put it in perspective there’s a great visual post by Jeff Clark over at The Daily Reckoning that illustrates the risk rather neatly: A Thousand Pictures Is Worth One Word.

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Is 'social' the right term to use for everything online?

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There is a tendency to put the word social in front of many other words to day to describe some new use of technology. I remain uncomfortable with the way we have plonked the word ‘social’ in front of so many other things, for example; networking, media, computing, business, etc.

One reason for this discomfort is that everything that human beings do is social in some way. But that discomfort about the term aside we’ve got to call it something and that will do for the time being.

Going back to the origins of the word social we can see it comes from the Latin socius and meant companion or partner. That makes it an ideal word to use about collaborative acts or practices.

The trouble is that adding social in front of everything begins to devalue its descriptive utility. Instead it seems to become yet another piece of jargon as voiced by the shallow spruikers of the latest thing.  Using it in front of everything makes it into a joke.

I’m interested in how we keep things real. I think people need clear and simple communication. Meaningless jargon is not how we keep things real.

It makes me wonder though, is it the quality of the communicator and the truths that they speak that wipes away the feeling of jargon? Does it really all come down to trust?

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Riots, desire, consumerism, community and values.

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Want is a funny word. It can mean different things, such as:

“absence or deficiency of something desirable or requisite” or
“to be lacking or absent, as a part or thing necessary to completeness”, or
“to feel a need or a desire for; wish for”, or
“to wish, need, crave, demand, or desire”
(Source Dictionary.com)

The scenes in the UK of rioters and looting were awful on many levels. But one scene that was repeated that was especially revelatory was the looters trying on goods in the stores before they stole them.

That behaviour spoke to me of want.

In the past, usually riots were because people lacked some necessity – food, freedom, the right to vote. That is, the rioters acted in response to want in the sense of absence or lack of something. This is the kind of rioting we have seen in the middle east in recent times, places like Egypt and Syria.

But in the UK we saw rioters, unfocused on anything except inflicting damage on property and helping themselves to goods for which they had a desire. That is, acting in response to want in the sense of desire for something. And that something wanted was material goods rather than aspiration to freedom or truth.

This is different. It is about people who have learned to desire those things for the acquisition of which they do not have sufficient economic resources. And yet, they do have the means – through a collective act of will – to achieve access to the goods they desire.

The looters have achieved their want, they now have the material goods that they sought. However, in achieving those goods they have destroyed the community facilities upon which they and many others rely. They have reinforced their other-ness. They have achieved a short term goal while simultaneously creating the platform for increased levels of dissatisfaction.

I suspect that material goods will not really fulfil the wants of the rioters and looters in the UK. Their anomie will remain. And they will recall the power of their collective action. They will also recall the powerlessness of the authorities in the face of that collective action.

It might be as Winston Churchill once said (in slightly different circumstances):

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Source: Sir Winston Churchill, speech at Lord Mayor’s Luncheon, Mansion House, London, November 10, 1942

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London riots: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

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It seems strange watching the sad events unfolding in the United Kingdom from such a distance. With the spreading riots, looting, and mob violence it is apt to recall the words of Charles Dickens describing turbulent times past:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

From A Tale of Two Cities

There will be discussion, analysis and commentary dissecting these events for months to come. And that will do nothing to change what has happened: the people injured, the homes burned, the businesses destroyed.

But in turbulent times such as these we can expect some people to behave as if the bonds of community have been severed. We can expect those bereft of hope in material gain in the normal course of things to turn to other ways of acquiring goods that are out their reach.

It makes me wonder what we can do to ensure that people in our local communities do not feel like this. And it makes me wonder how we can recreate the communal bonds that build up a society for the common good.

I also wonder what role government can play in this. Not as a benevolent Santa Claus doling out material benefits, but as a builder and facilitator of a civil and inclusive society in times of economic constraint. And what about the role of government 2.0 in all of this too?

Mostly at this time I hope that people in the UK can stay safe and well; and that actions by people of goodwill can outweigh the actions of the others.

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Dissent and Securing Freedom – Aung San Suu Kyi shares her ideas

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Over the weekend I listened to this moving  talk from the Burmese pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, where she examines what drives people to dissent.

Reflecting on the history of her own party, the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi, examines the meaning of opposition and dissident. She also explains her reasons for following the path of non-violence.

If you’re interested in freedom and dissent then Aung San Suu Kyi’s talk at the 2011 Reith Lecture is worth spending 45 minutes on (there’s a few news items before the talk commences).

A transcript of Aung San Suu Kyi’s talk is also available for download (PDF).

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If capitalism is broken is social innovation a way to fix it?

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Over the past several years I have come to think that capitalism as practised in the western world is fundamentally broken. Even before the global financial crisis (GFC) this feeling was strong. But in the aftermath of the GFC my discomfort with modern capitalism has continued to grow. Nothing I have seen, read or heard has shifted my perception.

I know and understand the world of capitalism. I like capitalism and think that it has been good for us in many ways. I respect profit and the law of compound interest. Most of my work experience since leaving school has been with large corporations (mostly large enterprises, Fortune 500 or S&P/ASX 200) – what I jokingly refer to as ‘the belly of the beast’.

But business models that were effective for organisations in past centuries are no longer relevant to the conditions that face the world today. We must find business models that are sustainable, equitable and fair to replace them.

A few things to consider:

  • Western business has been like a cargo cult for too long and has elevated shareholder return as an idol.
  • What good to shareholders (a.k.a. human beings) if the profit that is returned to them comes at the price of the environment their children and grandchildren must inherit?
  • What good to the shareholders if the people who work in the business to generate those returns are broken by corporate politics and are called upon to undertake immoral or illegal acts (for example #hackergate)?
  • What good if those returns to shareholders are generated at the cost of social bonds and the common good?

For many years I’ve pondered: surely it must be possible to generate profit sustainably and to create social good while generating profit?

Over the years I’ve also noticed a growing number of people thinking along similar lines. These people have talked about, among other things, the idea social innovation.  They have also discussed concepts such as sustainable or resilient communities (checkout the MiiU wiki); and concepts like open source innovation are becoming increasingly important.

Even if the US manages to sort out its internal issues with the debt ceiling, there remain serious economic issues in Europe and North America.

We need to take collective action to create profit and abundance that is sustainable on a social, economic and environmental basis.

For too long we have let run rampant a corporate ideology that exalts profit as a deity and we have allowed worship at the altar of shareholder returns to dominate our thinking and ways of doing in business around the world.

It’s time to create better ways for organisations to be more sustainable, more humane, and more planet friendly.

UPDATE 7 AUG 2011

An interesting article just popped up on The Guardian from the UK: Our financial system has become a madhouse. We need radical change. Here Will Hutton argues that “As a new global crisis looms, and political paralysis worsens, genuinely bold solutions are required to overcome the malaise”. I recommend this article.

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What's in a name? Pirate, freedom fighter or terrorist

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I recently discovered that one of my ancestors was arrested by the British in 1828 as a pirate and sent to Australia as a convict with his death sentence commuted to life in the colonies.

It was pretty cool to discover that I have both a pirate and a convict relative. And Talk Like a Pirate Day will probably never be the same.

But then I started to delve a bit further into this story and the layers of complexity began to emerge.

My ancestor, Damianos Ninis, was appparently a Greek freedom fighter in the Greek War of Independence – the war against Ottoman Turkish oppression.

It is reported that at his trial the defence argued that:

the Greeks who were fighting a war against the Turks had the right “under international law to remove articles of war from a neutral ship proceeding to an enemy-occupied port (namely, Alexandria).” The verdict rendered by the Court stated that Manolis, Ninis and Vasilakis were to be sentenced to death, whilst Boulgaris, Papandreou, Stroumboulis and Laritsos though sentenced to death “but with a recommendation of these four to mercy, since, they had not taken a leading part nor committed any act of violence.”
Source: A History of Greek Migration and Settlement to Australia by Stavros T.Stavridis

It turns out that Damianos survived his time in Australia, arriving on the Norfolk in 1829. He was granted a complete pardon in 1836 and returned to Greece the following year. Two of his sons later returned to Australia, hence the family line continues here.

All of this got me thinking about how important the words we use really are.

It is likely that Damianos and his compatriots considered themselves to be freedom fighters against an oppressive regime. To the Turks they were probably classified as terrorists, and the British categorised them as pirates.

I wonder how we can work this kind of thing out now. Who is a freedom fighter, who is a terrorist? The question is very apt now with the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. And I suspect that there are no easy answers.

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What's real and what's not

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“Sometimes life happens and you can’t stop it. Now is that time. When it happens, you discover where true love lies, and where it never existed.”

A good friend said this very recently in response to a significant life event. It got me thinking about how much time and energy I have wasted on things and people that have nothing to do with true love.

Then the question arose: what do I mean by true love? For simplicity I adopted the terms for love used by C. S. Lewis in The Four Loves (however, not necessarily his explicitly Christian reading of these four types of love). He adopts much of his analysis of love from Aristotle. For those unfamiliar with the four loves of which he speaks:

  • Storge – Affection: fondness through familiarity, especially between family members or people who have otherwise found themselves together by chance.
  • Philia – Friendship: a strong bond existing between people who share common interest or activity; the love between family and friends.
  • Eros – Romance: love in the sense of ‘being in love’ or the emotional connection with the other person as distinct from sexuality.
  • Agape – Unconditional Love: love that cares and acts regardless of circumstance or behaviour.

It is interesting to go back and think upon one’s life, to consider how much time was spent with companions with whom one shared bonds of love. To consider how much time one has spent with people who did not wish you well. To consider how much time was spent on things and not on people. And to ponder how much time was spent on people who had no love for us or for others.

Spent is the right word. We spend time like a currency in our lives. We are allocated an unknown yet finite amount of time in life and our challenge is to spend that time. And the choices we make create the value of that time we spend.

Notice that possessions and wealth are not on that list? Things cannot give love they can merely inertly receive our love, never return it. Only other people can share love with us.

Now that I am older it is clear how precious and short our time here is. I do not want to waste another minute. And I want to spend my time on love and loving; on real things and not imaginary things.

This sums up why this matter is important, not just to individuals but to the entire world:

“Compassion and love are not mere luxuries. As the source both of inner and external peace, they are fundamental to the continued survival of our species.”
Source: His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama

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Protecting babies: whooping cough vaccination boosters for adults

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Many people who were vaccinated as children do not realise that by the time we’re all grown up some of our protection no longer works.

In the case of whooping cough, or pertussis, the protection can wane in as little as six to ten years. This means that many of us are wandering around at risk of catching whooping cough ourselves or asympomatically transmitting it to others. This is not so much of a problem for adults we might run into, but for little babies this can mean exposure to a life threatening illness.

Whooping cough is a disease that does not evoke fear in our generation as it did in past generations. It used to be a terrible killer for children before the advent of the pertussis vaccine.

“Whooping cough is a relatively mild disease in adults but has a significant mortality rate in infants. Until immunization was introduced in the 1930s, whooping cough was one of the most frequent and severe diseases of infants in the United States.”
Source: Kenneth Todar, Ph.D. Textbook of Bacteriology

Now many parents are refusing to vaccinate their children against whooping cough and this makes things more dangerous for very young babies. This is a real networked world problem. One person’s decision not to get vaccinated can have implications for the health of those around them.

In Australia the adult booster vaccine typically includes diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. I had one of these booster shots recently because I knew that I would be spending time with some newborn babies and wanted to ensure they were protected.

Check out this video … and consider consulting your doctor and getting an adult booster shot.

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Findings of the UWS Challenging Racism research

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Starting in 1998, a UWS research project has been in progress on the geography of racism in NSW.

Key findings of the Racism project include:

  • While racism is quite prevalent in Australian society its occurrences differ from place to place.
  • These variations have been largely overlooked by anti-racism campaigns in Australia.
  • Most Australians recognise that racism is a problem in society.
  • Racist attitudes are positively associated with age, non-tertiary education, and to a slightly lesser extent with those who do not speak a language other than English, the Australia-born, and with males.

There are very interesting local insights into racism in Australia – there’s an interactive map of the findings by region. And you can download the national findings here (in PDF format).

Some real food for thought.

Thanks to @Jinjirrie for bringing this report to my attention.

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