Notes of Note from John F. Ince

Archive for August, 2015

If We Want Real Change, We Need to Step Outside Our Own Little Echo Chamber

A few years ago, while attending the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, the so called “Slow Money” conference was also taking place across the city – so I did a quick shuttle between the two. A few weeks before I’d simultaneously attended a software developer conference, a green conference and a social capital conference. All of these conferences existed as islands unto themselves. At each event, the speakers trumpeted their own visionary solutions, their revolutionary business models and disruptive approaches. But most were unaware that speakers at the other conferences were talking about the same ideas, just using different buzzwords. My takeaway – truly breakthrough ideas are only possible, if somehow we all find a way to integrate our ideas with complementary ideas that are growing up on other islands of thought.

Today we’re all operating with blinders on to some extent. We all function in our own little echo chambers of thought operating with data intensive filters…. amassing more and more information about what really doesn’t matter very much … except to the people in our own little echo chamber of ideas.

Often speakers talk about changing this system or that system. But what about rethinking “the system” that underpins all the other systems? What about integrating agendas of these echo chambers? Until we view the data from a distance and see the bigger picture … a picture not clouded with static of useless statistics… a picture not distracted by data flowing from myriad sources – until we see this bigger picture we’re still all systematically moving towards a reckoning of the system itself.

For starters, consider this from the ecological perspective. All other systems depend upon our natural systems for resources and sink functions. More and more of the data coming from the Web is about the consumption patterns of “users” … but we all know that the consumption patterns of human beings are unsustainable. <blockquote>The late great environmentalist David Brower, summed it up best 25 years ago when he said, “In the last 25 years, humans have consumed more of the earth’s resources than all humans consumed in all history.”</blockquote> He said this 25 years ago. If it was true then … and it was … then what does it say about the assumptions that so many entrepreneurs put into their growth projections to please their investors today.

<blockquote>On a planet of an finite limits with growing populations all over the world … why are we still trying to sell the American dream of “buy, buy buy more stuff” to people all over the world. </blockquote>

Why do so many business models of tech entrepreneurs rely on “advertising” to make the numbers work when buying more more more … stuff, is the last thing on earth we should be doing.

The earth has finite limits … the fossil fuels of our economy are finite and diminishing. The sink functions of the earth buckling under the pressure of a throwaway society. And while the tech world has come up with all kinds of innovative solutions for niche problems – many important and highly inventive in their own way … they’re ignoring the incentive structure in our financial and advertising systems that program us to consume more more more.

So while tech entrepreneurs pitch their business plans for solving micro problems in niche markets, we’re looking right past core problems that threaten the ecology and the stability of the larger systems upon which we all depend. Yes, this ultimately threatens the lifestyles that all of us have come to know and love. You can fill in the blank … here … educational decline … financial instability … economic inequality … unsustainable lifestyles … stagnant economy … screen addiction … stressed out youth … overworked parents … they’re all parts of the larger system that is reaching a buckling point.

What ever we call it … we all know that the system is rapidly approaching a breaking point. We’re all smart enough to know that the “system” increasingly is defined by the code that we program into our strategic plans … which together comprise the code of the global operating system … the code of high finance … the code of consumer purchasing patterns … the code of millions of subsystems that together are pushing us towards an inevitable reckoning.

So my question is this: can we connect the dots between what’s happening in our eentrepreneurial conferences … in the tech accelerators … in the B-schools … on on streets where half of the people are focused on their screens … on the trading floors of the big brokerage houses … in the boardrooms of companies … in the minds of the CEOs.

<blockquote>In sum … why aren’t we rewriting the code of the global operating system to solve the real problems that threaten all of us instead of numbing ourselves with commercial messages that improve nothing but the bottom lines of the balance sheets?</blockquote>

The accumulated intelligence in the tech world is fully sufficient to accept and meet a new challenge. The only question is: who is willing to step up and tackle it? Twenty-five years ago, the nexus of economic power was concentrated on Wall Street. But in the last 3 decades another nexus of power has come into being that could today challenge the economic, social power concentrated on Wall Street: the power of technology and the companies that have been building revolutions all across the business horizon.

This is fundamental shift of economic power from the financial firms of Wall Street to the tech world. Twenty-five years ago, “old money,” represented by the major Wall Street banks, was the foundation of our banking system. Today, “new money” represented by technology firms like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, eBay, Cisco, and Facebook have created pools of capital, most of it sitting in marketable securities, that collectively amounts to over a quarter of a trillion dollars. Taken collectively technology companies now have a more substantial and secure financial base than Wall Street banks and none of none of that money is leveraged.

What are tech firms going to do with all the cash they have?

What would happen if the tech world came together to integrate:
•  new money’s financial power,
• the coding capability and technological prowess of the need breed of entrepreneurs,
• popular concern with unsustainable living patterns?

The net result would be potent. It could start with something akin the Bitcoin “blockchain” idea and move towards a network of digital complementary currencies, integrating new financial incentives that are in vogue at impact investing, slow money and social capital circles and layer it upon some of the “bioneering” solutions that are freqently discussed at green conferences. These ideas could form the basis of a new “code” of “Common Cents” that starts to attach a tangible value to the choices we make, the ecological footprints and all the countless incremental decisions we make that jeopardize our common future.

The beginning stages of this are already unfolding with the development of numerous social currencies, social networks, emerging mobile payment solutions and numerous other breakthrough ideas in social capital, social enterprise, social finance and fintech. This new system can be much more efficient, much more equitable and much more empowering than our existing old system if we embed it with design features that consciously integrate values of sustainability, equity and empowerment.

Indeed we are looking right at the real possibility of creating more stable, more secure and more sustainable system. It could be a system that values our common interests on a par with the current dynamic of self interest.

But first our challenge is a simple one – to step out of our own little echo chamber of ideas – and work together from a broader perspective – a perspective in which we see that our common interests as paramount. Ultimately this will give us ample reason to work together to fashion the outlines of a new operating system for the global economy. It’s a solution … a disruptive solution … a revolutionary solution that is there for the taking … if we can just see it before our very eyes.