Friday, February 27, 2015

My favourite Beta startups for the moment, and the story they tell...

I love monitoring startup initiatives. The collective vision –and, let’s be honest, gut-feel- of all these entrepreneurs is a source of intelligence any trendwatcher should cherish. Sure, many will fail, or struggle for long years before getting any success. Nevertheless, all these initiatives are an answer to certain demands, even if these are often too small to serve successfully. But to me, they tell a story nevertheless.

Here’s my pick of favourites from the companies that appeared on Betalist last couple of weeks, and the story they tell. 

I’m often asked what the ‘future of social media’ will be. There are many answers to that, none of them really easy or trustworthy. But for the immediate future it is rather clear that we will enter a period of extreme fragmentation of the market. Call it the ‘toothpastization’ of social media. Two of the startups on Betalist (in recent times) are a vivid example of this: Dooers , a community that aims at sharing advise on the best items for any activity, and Travelabulous , a social version of the Lonely Planet, so to speak. What strikes me with these initiatives, and many others, is they tend to focus on providing tangible advise to questions or challenges. It’s social media with a plus…

Talking of which, when combined with crowdsourcing and you get Flotsm, my favourite for the moment, despite its name. Flotsm promises to ‘Harness the wisdom of crowds. Make better decisions. Connect with minds, freely’. A promising agenda, and certainly an initiative I’ll follow closely… 

Another favourite of mine, but for personal reasons, if Teachery. In the era of MOOCs, Teachery offers virtually anyone to become an online teacher, and eventually earn a buck with it… this will undoubtedly unleash a wave of creativity to many researchers…

There’s been plenty of initiatives in the area of the ‘sharing economy’. Yerdl, Eggs & Rabbitholes, etc. Anything new? Well yes: Paperclip adds localization to it, so as to find items to trade your unwanted stuff with right in your neighbourhood. Not sure what the revenue model is for these initiatives, but I love them nevertheless (or perhaps because of that).

Follow this space for more to come!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The 3d industrial revolution... what's in a word?

I will give a presentation on the 3d industrial revolution in a couple of days. As a preparation, I naturally had to go through the latest thinking of Jeremy Rifkin (whose book The Third Industrial Revolution somehow launched the idea).  

In his latest book ‘The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism’, Jeremy sees the Internet of Everything as the starting point of a society that produces any kind of value at no additional (marginal) cost, almost free, so to speak. The term (and the logic) is somewhat hard to grasp, but more important are the supporting trends that Jeremy picked to showcase this major shift. I took the liberty to summarize them in the graphic below:

Makes sense, though in my humble opinion there is much more happening. In my eyes the fundamental shift that is currently happening has an impact on why we produce (and consume) things, how we conceive them, how we make, how we market them and, ultimately, the environment in which we do all this:

But is this the “3d industrial revolution” at all? Difficult to say. For sure all these trends, taken together, will change certain aspects of what we came to call our capitalist system. But will it revolutionise it? Not necessarily. It might shake it and it will certainly challenge its logic. But this doesn’t need to be an ‘or-or’ story, all these trends can perfectly develop next to the systems of which they are an alternative…

Welcome in the world of ‘and-and’. Something to reflect on...

Saturday, February 21, 2015

What our economy can learn from nature... 'The blue economy' by Gunter Pauli

When and how did humanity go wrong in our way to conceive things? We only had to look around us to see how things are conceived in an efficient, effective  -sustainable- way… Welcome to the amazing world of biomimicry…

There are a tremendous amount of ways we can learn from nature to (re)use our garbage for other means, to generate energy, or to make buildings ready to face nature’s biggest calamities. ‘The blue economy’ provides a hundred of these examples, and he’s still collecting more.

Just an example: from the coffee bean plant we use approximately 0,5% to produce what we know as coffee.  The remaining 99,5% is burned or laid to waste, producing nothing but toxic gasses either way. How can we do better? It just proves to be that the remains of the plant are extremely fertile ground to grow exotic, yet very nutritious mushrooms – currently grown mostly in China, though using coffee plant waste it could grown in other parts of the world as well. This would require very few changes from the coffee farmers, and as an additional positive side effect it would create additional jobs, generate additional revenue for the poor farmers and it would solve some of the food challenges in poorer regions of the world!

This example shows the power of Gunter Pauli’s central theme: through a better way to use natural processes we can both generate a more sustainable environment and generate more wealth for more people. Both, so Pauli argues, go hand in hand. However, and here comes the real clue, to realise this these initiatives would by nature be local! Gone, globalisation. Gone, profit maximisation for irresponsible multinationals!

Natural ecosystems do not evolve to become monopolies, producing ever more standardised output. Instead they tend to align the efforts of a multitude of smaller initiatives and processes, so Pauli shows.

This does not require a revolution, just a smarter way of doing things. We can heat our buildings in much the same way as termites keep their habitat at equal temperatures.  We can use specific trees to combat erosion and at the same time grow silk worms, whose silk in turn we can use to produce shaving blades (instead of using Titanium) or in cosmetics (instead of using chemicals).  We can make buildings fireproof by using lemon shrill instead of Brome. We can produce energy using temperature differences (like zebra’s do), or through algae (who in turn have the ability to clean water and get CO2 out of the atmosphere).  Examples abound.

So where did we go wrong? Pauli argues that the reason might lie in our inclination to think linearly –instead of in cycles. We are trapped in a certain logic that does not work, at least not optimally. An unreasonable, irrational paradigm. 

Another example: traditional economic thinking (very much embedded in the opinion of each one of us, consciously or not) dictates that productivity gains (and hence economic growth) can only be obtained by using less workforce by production unit. Well, better think twice. As Pauli shows, productivity gains can be realized by using more workforce! How? Just copy nature’s wisdom… After all, it’s been gathering this wisdom for trillions of years…

This book definitely challenges our traditional way(s) of thinking…

A wonderful and exciting read !

PS: continuous research on this subject can be found through Pauli's organisation Zero Emission Research and Initiatives

'This changes everything', review of Naomie Klein's book

Naomie Klein is definitely one of my favourite opinion maker. Give her a subject, any subject, and there she goes, studying every angle of it for a couple of years, turning every argument and counter argument several times, avoiding no taboo at all. Of course, I don’t mean to say that she is neutral, no opinion maker is, nor should he be.

So when Klein focuses her mind on a topic as vital as climate change, I’m paying attention, hoping for her to uncover as inconvenient a truth as she did in the shock doctrine.

‘No time’ is certainly not free of controversial statements. For instance, early in the book Klein comes to the somewhat bewildering conclusion that climate negationists are in a way bigger believers in climate change than most of the adepts of the green movement. The have become negationists just because the consequences of the inconvenient truth are just too difficult to bare. Dealing with the climate challenge means transforming a global system which up to the present is just too comfortable to live in, and hence unacceptable to give up, or to start thinking about how to change it. Klein wouldn’t be Klein if she wouldn’t attack globalisation once in a while.

Neither does Klein spare the green movement. In her eyes it has fallen in the trap of the negationists, by combatting their arguments and thus speaking their language. Most of the green initiatives are far from green anyhow, as Klein exhaustively proves. 

So Klein turns her attention to a third movement. One that arguably is still a bit messy and blurry, but is showing its impact in every single part of the world. Klein calls this movement ‘blockadia’ – a bit pejorative to my taste, but who am I? In Klein’s eyes Blockadia is the sum of all the small initiatives that are taking shape to oppose the excesses of the current system. These initiatives are quite organic, judging from the vast amount of examples Klein provides in her book. They sometimes pop up from nothing, instantaneously, and sometimes disappear as quickly as they came, as soon as the message is conveyed, or the aim reached. Some of them grow in (or out of) proportion, morph into other forms, change directions and dissolve naturally. But more importantly, these movements are constituted by a multitude of different people, dependent on the purpose they serve. From middle-class people opposing the construction of a dangerous pipeline in their back yard, to natives claiming their rights on ground, according to Klein all of these are part of that bigger movement, Blockadia.

This is not a book about climate change as such, but rather about how people –and, perhaps, humanity- is dealing with the consequences of that change. Blockadia in that respect is bound to grow as these consequences will become more and more apparent, and will affect a growing amount of people all around the globe. In Blockadia Klein sees some reason to hope for a better future. Whether it will be enough, however, no one can tell… 

A valuable read nevertheless...

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Population pyramids: Powerful predictors of the future

A fascinating crash course in demographic studies, and why this is important in order to anticipate the future...

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The impact of automation and robotics on the labor market

Seems like a lot of bright people are seriously investigating the impact of automation and robotics on the labor market nowadays. According to most, we're heading some serious storms in this regard. Not only is automation destroying plenty of blue-collar jobs, but with the avenge of smarter devises and self-learning software, even white collar jobs could suffer from this trend in the long-run.

However, as Andrew McAfee brilliantly explains in this TED talk, as automation first and foremost benefits the corporate profits, it will no longer do so in the future if this keeps on destroying jobs - companies will simply have no consumers to sell their products to if all jobs would disappear. This somehow pleas for a guaranteed minimum wage (or a different way to re-distribute corporate profits, if you'd ask me, this could be done in other ways than a minimum wage).

The vision of labor-free citizens that spend their time thinking, discussing, making art and designing new things while robots do the hard work, is reappearing. Sounds pretty sixties and tech-utopian, perhaps. But why not? Whether we want it or not, we are already facing a completely new logic in the way our society gets organized. Trends like 3D printing, climate change, crowdsourcing, sharing economy etc etc already are impacting the very fabric of our society. If you project all of these trends on a larger scale (okay, a very dangerous thing to do for any forecaster) you see a completely new society emerge.

How exactly this will unfold is obviously very hard to predict. No doubt the path to this transition will be painful for many, as is the case with all transitions of this magnitude. But if we're all looking in the same direction, it might lead to something better at the end... it just might...

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