Sunday, November 06, 2011

Social Media is Bringing About a "Public Opinion Singularity"

In the blog "Punk Views On Social Media" there is a recent post by Maddie Grant titled "Celebrity Schmelebrity - The Facts Don't Lie" where she talks about how celebrity endorsements are becoming completely irrelevant to consumers and public opinion.

The compelling part of this for me is how it is another indication that as an evermore internet-connected community we are starting to see the emergence of a richer, more adaptable and more intelligent "public opinion". This new Public Opinion is becoming more and more immune all the time to manipulation by an "elite few". That is a really good thing.

But celebrity influence dropping off is only one aspect of this. This is also happening with elite politicians and the wealthy elite becoming less effective at consistently influencing the pubic opinion of the middle classes everywhere. (Arab Spring, Occupy WallStreet, etc.)

The traditional influence of the elite is losing ground because it now has to overome the growing percentage of time each day we all are spending "listening" to each other directly via our Facebook friends, our self-filtered Twitter feeds and and other crowd-sourced media such as blogs and blog comments. We still are consuming the highly homogenized and/or highly filtered feeds from 20th century style news-media but now we are forming our voting opinions much more often when we test our thinking about those topics with our now more trustworthy social networks.

Read the Wikipedia entry on "public opinion" and you start to see the historical context for how "public opinion" is now going nonlinear in it's complexity and power because of the influence of realtime, crowd-controlled social media.

The end result is we are going to rapidly approach a "Public Opinion Singularity" where public opinion will begin to evolve and grow overwhelmingly powerful by riding on the ever more frictionless surface of uncontrolled social media interactions. If we are able to keep the internet open and free, in the face of the elite starting to see this dynamic and fear the loss of power, I see good things happening.

Public opinion is about to rapidly achieve a form of benevolent "near-sentience" that will leave no place for totalitarianism and negative, anti-social beliefs to hide from the spotlight.

The cool thing also is this intelligent, benevolent form of intelligent public opinion will be the most powerfully positive peer pressure we've ever known as a race. It will quite rapidly, in relative historical context,  purge negativity and the attitudes of scarcity and selfishness from our human dialogues. We are about to evolve into a new phase of human society and human existence where the most effective form of government, benevolent dictatorship, will be achieved in a very interesting/surprising way. 

The "benevolent dictator" that will emerge will not be one person who's whims, and finite lifespan, might send us into the ditch. Instead It will be an ageless, crowd-sourced, nearly-sentient construct called "human public opinion" that will be the sum total of all the "better angels of our nature" connected together in an always-on fashion via the global social network.

The hard part is we'll go through a phase marked by the painful extraction of negativity and toxic attitudes from the collective consciousness. (Already happening now in totalitarian states and contexts everywhere.)

But make no mistake it will be a good thing. As much as you might think negativity dominates the human condition the reality is negativity, and selfishness, is only a small part of our total experience. Most people on this planet are overwhelming decent, thoughtful, loving and compassionate by nature in their daily lives. 

Social media is revealing that fact to all of us and making us a better race for it because allows us to be "good" way more than "bad".  Imagine what we can all do together when this process reaches it's logical conclusion over the next 20 years?

John Lennon's vision in his song "Imagine" is within our reach if we keep reaching just a bit longer.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

UPDATE: Steve Job's Secret? He was a "Near-Futurist".

(UPDATE NOTE: I wrote this blog post about Steve Jobs on September 17. Given the loss of his brilliance from the world of innovation I thought I'd push this out again. Steve has been an inspiration to me since I saw the 1984 commercial for the Mac when I was a sophomore in college. If energized me to refocus on getting my engineering degree and becoming a visionary innovator like Steve. 27 years later I'm still focused on being an innovator even at age 47. Steve helped 40+ types like me realize that true innovation mindset is something not limited to the young. Innovation is an attitude you can keep your entire life.)

Everyone lately is trying to figure out why Steve Job's has in the past 10 years gone from failure to unimaginable success and now reached "icon" status. I know why.

It's because he figured out the commercial power of becoming what I call a "Near-Futurist".

Steve Jobs once said...  “It isn’t the consumer's job to know what they want.”

People hearing that who think he was being arrogant don't understand what he was saying.  In that quote he *wasn't" saying consumers don't know what they want/need *now*.  For good or bad we do.

What he was really saying is, "consumer's don't know what they will want 2 years, 3 years, 5 years or 10 years from now but I (SJ) do.".

Every human mind, to one degree of accuracy or another, is a "time machine". We can, depending on the person, vividly remember the past or vividly envision the future, or sometimes both.  Davinci, H.G Wells, Jules Verne and other past futurists could see vividly how technology would affect the future. They often could envision a future decades to 100s of years in the future.

But seeing something that will be popular even only 5 years in the future doesn't result in commercial success. 5 years is just a bit too long.

Steve Jobs is one of those people whose mind always is thinking about and imagining being in the future. He naturally likes to think of futures anywhere from 5 to 25 years from "the now".

But Jobs became more commercially successful in his product visions and projects when he figured out he needed to focus his future vision on what people will want 2 to 3 years in the future instead of 5,10 or 25 years hence.

In 1984 he managed to get a Macintosh product into the market that was 10 years ahead of what most people were ready for and he had what appeared to be a big success.

But in reality that "success" set him back 15 years. It set him back because he thought that success meant he could drag people 10 years into the future every time he launched a product. It took him 15 years from that 1984 commercial (1999/2000) to realize he had to "Think different.". That new thinking and approach was he decided to work on envisioning products that would get delivered within 6 months of those products being wanted avariciously by the mainstream consumer. Deliver the right product 6 months before people want it and it's a lot easier to drag people 6 months into the future and look like you are a super-genius who sees things no one else sees.

So working backward from "launch 6 months before the market is ready" meant he needed to focus his future vision 2 to 3 years out so that he and his team would have the time to deliver "on time"; 6 months before people were ready to "want".

With this approach Apple's competition then is already 3 years behind when he introduces his product and by the time they start reacting they are already 4 of 5 years behind and that is simply impossible to overcome unless Apple stumbles in a big way.

Jobs loves Wayne Gretzky's "I skate to where the puck is going to be." quote.

Steve Jobs developed himself into a specific kind of futurist that optimizes his ability for commercial success by skating to "where the puck is going to be" 3 years from today.

He's successful because he's a..."Near-Futurist".


Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Civilian Innovation Corps - A 21st Century Solution to the Jobs Problem

I am 46 yrs old. I'm a husband, father and engineer and I have what I think is a solution that will re-invigorate the American Innovation Engine/Mindset and bring us out of the mess we find ourselves in.

I was a corporate worker for 20+ years but in July 2007 I was laid off. In the past 4 years journey into becoming a startup company founder I have reached a realization that traditional large corporations were poorly equipped  at leveraging my full abilities. So it was time for me to take a big chance and start my own company and make things happen on my own.

However, the problem I have struggled greatly with this past 4 years is; with 2 kids, a stay at home wife, who had to go back to work in 2009, and a mortgage to pay, it is extremely difficult to find the money to start a company.

Venture Capitalists operate in a way that makes it very difficult for people, even those people with vision and drive, to get the chance to start something new unless they have already led a prior successful company.  Banks won't loan money to a startup without existing customers and revenue so the entrepreneur has a "catch-22" situation dealing with banks.

My only avenue was to make it happen anyway by investing my past and future retirement savings.   This process has made me realize just how high the barrier has become for people to take this step and take control of their lives and careers.It is very clear to me now that this country is full of millions of "30-something, 40-something" and "50-something" people, just like me, at the peak of their abilities, that are perfectly capable of make great things happen in solving big problems for society while generating new jobs for the next generation.

The problem is how to empower those people to realize their potential. Most are criminally underutilized in corporate jobs or have been dumped on the street by corporations seeking "cheap labor" overseas.Today this great pool of wisdom, experience and ability is going largely wasted. Imagine what is possible if we put those people to work in a more powerful way solving the problems we know how to solve.

The Solution: The "Civilian Innovation Corps" (CIC) ******************************************

Economic recovery is about only one thing and only thing; Jobs. Without jobs that pay well across a range of careers and industries the economy can't and won't work.

Therefore I strongly believe that a wise use of a large portion of the "Rescue Plan" funds, combined with philanthropic donation from people like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, would be to fund a program I call the "Civilian Innovation Corps" (CIC). This program would be a 21st century version of the CCC of the 1930s.

In the 1930s CCC put 'out of work' people 'back to work' in rebuilding the infrastructure of the US. That rebuilt foundation set the stage for our success in WW2 and the breakthroughs we had in the 50 years after WW2.We of course had our failures; but we also had many successes in leading the world to new levels of human societal success and prosperity.

The new deal programs like CCC set the stage for the interstate highway system, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Hoover Dam, the Civil Rights movement, the Space Program, the "people's vision and action" that ended the Vietnam war, our survival through the cold war and ultimately our ability to turn cold war defense technology (ArpaNet) into what we now call the "internet"."

Innovation mindset" is what brought people to this continent. It's what created this "great experiment" called the USA and it's what made the USA the leading force on earth for progress and a better future. "Innovation mindset" is the essential component of what makes America unique. I believe our "innovation mindset" needs a recharge for this new century.

Our Fortune 500 corporations, combined with our Universities, were the primary stewards of our innovation mindset in the 20th century. But with our largest corporations off-shoring product & service innovation and focusing on short-term profits and cost cutting, the F500 innovation engine is sputtering. Also with the high cost of a university education fewer American-born students are staying in school to get Master's degrees and PHd's. University research historically has contributed hugely to our countries core research and innovation so this loss is concerning.

The CIC would launch a new "innovation mindset" stewardship using the modern principles of self-organizing and collaborative communities. The CIC would provide and support a social networking community for laid-off and/or frustrated innovation workers with strong work experience and skills.

These people would have all types of abilities plus a desire to start and be involved in a new innovation-generating startup business. The CIC social network would also look to attract young people with less experience but plenty of drive and passion to make a difference. The CIC platform would then allow people to seek and/or create "Startup Teams" in the CIC community.

The leadership of teams will emerge naturally from small groups of people having the right mix of engineering, science, finance, legal, marketing, etc skill-sets. The team leads would build fast moving extended teams that would tackle hard problems in every industry.

The goal of each team would be to both solve a hard problem and build a viable wealth-generating business that can employ people. The teams would be able to draw from a vast pool of CIC volunteer talent including everything from physical laborers and skilled blue collar workers, to tenured college professors to former corporate CEO's.

The CIC community would also provide short, highly-focused education courses in all disciplines. Volunteer mentors/instructors from all disciplines would lead these courses so people could, if they want, rapidly bootstrap themselves into a new or different career. CIC would allow even for students in high school and middle school to engage in the community to learn, be mentored and to prepare for an entrepreneurial future.The future career path for many people may be something like.....

- At least one viable, CIC-supported small business launched and operating by your high school graduation.

- CIC volunteer work for one year with a second small business started by end of first year.- Income from 2 or more small businesses subsidizes your college education through grad school.

- Launch a more advanced venture in CIC as a team-lead focused on solving a hard problem.

- Launch more ventures until success, and financial independence is achieved.

- Independence from a monthly paycheck by ~35 would allow for people to volunteer their time back to CIC mentoring the latest crop of CIC entrepreneurs and/or CIC youth members in solving the next generation of problems.

Each CIC team would seek a limited initial "venture fund" of anywhere from $10K to $200K depending on the nature of the venture concept. This money would be a mix of CIC government grant money and private money invested in the CIC ecosystem by private equity investors. The initial money would not be used for salaries for team members but only for operations costs.

The participants would however get basic, and free, healthcare coverage provided by the CIC.After some amount of time ~1 yr, if the business passes it's success milestones they would receive a followup fund to scale the business. That funding would either come from CIC, if the concept addresses a very important public/societal need, or would come from private venture funding after having proved the business model as viable. Once funded the people working in these company's would begin to get salaries, as well as equity positions in the founded companies.

As such, CIC would be a classic American combination of governmental seeding of an ecosystem that ultimately becomes maximized for success by private investment and personal enterprise(hard work).

America provided my ancestors with a ladder to success with reachable rungs they could use to reach ever higher with only persistence and hard work. But that ladder has gotten old and is missing enough rungs where it's getting too hard for enough people, even those who are very persistent, to "make the climb".

This CIC concept could be a new American "ladder" to success for ourselves and our children. It would also be the ladder for the next generation of American immigrants from around the world with... "innovation mindsets, yearning to breath free".

Today someone in a foreign country who wants to come to the US must get a corporate sponsored visa to come here and work and start the citizenship process. With CIC, innovation-minded visionaries from anywhere could get a CIC sponsored visa to start them on their path to American citizenship.

America is an idea. The idea is, summed up in a statement we make to people of all countries,...

"Send me your visionaries of every generation and we will put them to work building toward a future where peace, prosperity and respect are the words that describe the human condition on this planet and beyond."

I'm ready to lead a movement to make CIC and other great ideas a reality.

The question I have is; Does the President or Congress care enough about solutions to find and support people like me who are ready to make solutions happen?