I am just back from the #disruptiontour with tour leaders Peter Hinssen https://twitter.com/hinssen and Steven Van Belleghem https://twitter.com/StevenVBe, and flawlessly put together by tour organizer Ilse Debondt from Connected Visions (https://twitter.com/ConnectdVisions ).
The PDF of the full program can be found here: http://www.connectedvisions.eu/pdf/cvdtour_program2014.pdf
I have made two blog posts about this excellent study tour:
- “Highlights Disruption Tour” with a sequential overview of highlights per company visited (that post)
- “The Uberization of Everything”, a more holistic analysis and sensemaking effort of what I believe are the disruption understreams (this post)
The tour started in the Bay Area on Monday 2 June 2014 with a visit to Google and ended on Friday 6 June 2014 at Scripps Research in San Diego.
Hereafter 8 “clusters” of transversal insights, with my very personal subjective sensemaking for which I am the sole responsible 😉
Brand Identity and what the company stands for
We visited Tesla after Google. The Google campus of course looks great, but one starts to wonder whether all this is real. How much is theatre and drama? Somebody made the remark whether some of the folks on the campus were not hired as actors 😉
What was more striking are the much higher enthusiasm and true engagement of the Tesla folks. In comparison, the Google people felt tired and at time un-interested. The Tesla tribe was full of fire and energy.
The Google portfolio looks more and more like a patchwork of apps and acquisitions. Even the Google presenter acknowledged that he did not know anymore what their brand was standing for. Something similar happened at Singularity University, where the presenter did not believe the singularity was going to happen, at least not in one “big bang”.
Companies need a “Collective Coherent Corporate Consciousness”
ànd clarity in their intentions and associated narratives.
Relating this all back to financial services, one may ask what a bank stands for or not. “When is a bank not a bank?”. When we see Paypal making payments invisible and blurring the online/offline worlds, what is holding back a Walmart, Amazon, and vibrant startups of offering these services under-the-hood, and elevating what they stand for at a more ethical level?
From Platform to Distributed and payload agnostic
On my blog, I have already many times hinted at the importance of peer-to-peer networks and business models. See also my post “The Revolution of the Data Slaves” https://petervan.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/the-revolution-of-the-data-slaves/
What was new for me in this tour was the power shift towards “fan-base” and “peer-base”. And the difference between platform-thinking and peer-thinking.
In the Uber scenario, it was the taxi dispatching company that was the friction in the system. This opened opportunities for newcomers like Uber to create a platform (to quote @sanguit, a combination of “magnets”, “matchmaking”, and “tools” like APIs, to let producers and consumers of “seeds” interact directly. But there is still a platform owner, server, “siren-server” that holds the power in the system.
While many enterprises are hesitantly making their first moves into platform-thinking, trying to avoid the Uberization of their own business, we are already witnessing the appearance of full peer-to-peer networks, where the infrastructure and business frameworks are owned by the peers, by the commons.
Have a look at newcomers like Ripple and Ethereum, very early days of organization moving from “company” towards “Distributed movement orchestrators” where the power lies in the end points, the nodes of the grid. It will be very interesting to see how governance and regulation will evolve in these 100% distributed environments.
But maybe this vision of infrastructure owned by the end points – owned by the commons – is all just wishful thinking, ignoring the fact that more of that infrastructure lands in the hands of massive new private infrastructures, replacing public goods and services. Where the worker becomes an “entrepreneur,” and assumes the entrepreneur’s risk
See more on this in this great Rhizome article on Internet Subjects: http://rhizome.org/editorial/2014/jun/20/sharing-and-solidarity/?ref=fp_post_title
“Such networks are in effect anti-communities, as Horning asserted with dystopic alarm, where users and independent contractors are pitted against one another, with the only unifying aspect being their use of digital technology to seek the best opportunity to exploit each other’s labor for the lowest rate. But at what cost?”
Just a couple of days ago, my colleague Jerry Kickenson made the following comment to my post “The Revolution of the Data Slaves” https://petervan.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/the-revolution-of-the-data-slaves/
“I wish I could agree with your view of a distributed, decentralized future. But on the contrary I see many examples of a trend in the opposite direction:
- Software defined networking moving to replace the decentralized routing of the Internet with centralized, top-down policy enforced by a “controller”.
- Bitcoin is fundamentally at risk due to consolidation of mining resources in a single pool.
- Peer-to-peer music sharing being replaced with streaming services hosted by mega-corporations.
- The most cutting edge software running on massively parallel, closely integrated oceans of compute nodes hosted in giant data centers owned by those same mega-corporations.
Perhaps these trends can be reversed – more powerful microprocessors and storage returning cutting edge computing to individuals, private clouds that are not just affordable but easy to set up and maintain, the type of networks you describe here.”
Regulation came back many times in our conversations. We all have seen the protests of taxi drivers against Uber in Boston, London, Brussels, Paris, and many other cities around the world. Diego Morales (Global Head of Innovation at Janssen Lab, part of J&J) hit the nail when he said:
The regulator is not evolving:
too much focus on preventing harm vs. enabling progress.
I listened to the painful efforts of innovators like 23andMe, Scanadu during the tour, and reflected on the regulatory FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) tactics with respect to crypto-currencies. The lesson learned in this tour is that innovators have to embrace the regulation but that you need deep pockets to sustain that effort for several years.
Blending On-line and Off-line, and the risk of becoming invisible
On-line is not trying anymore to just mimic off-line. On-line is supporting off-line experiences. Being part of a stream starts blurring into the four walls of the shop. The best example was PayPal, showcasing some use cases in their showroom.
Suddenly commerce started feeling like streaming music.
I would call it the Spotify-cation of everything. But with sensors assisting you in your brick-and-mortar shopping experiences. We see the same happening in education, like at Coursera. Students are assumed to take responsibility, and hang on-line on the knowledge fire hose, while being assisted and coached in very 1-1 real world experiences by their educators. The knowledge flows are on-line, the coaching off-line.
We have to start thinking into intentions
“I want to bank” is not an intention. It’s a supporting function to commerce. “I want to buy something” or “I want to do commerce” is probably also not an intention. It’s more about satisfying immediately a need, with all the reflections I could make about commerce and advertising as propaganda and mass manipulation of the unconscious. The point I am trying to make is that horizontal functions like payment become invisible. Think about your business: can it be commoditized so much that it becomes invisible?
Data Ethical Companies
I have already written so much on my blog about the exploitation of personal data through big data, government and corporate mass surveillance. I condensed most of my thinking in my recent “The Revolution of the Data Slaves” post. What surprised me during this tour was the naivety, the indifference and the shoulder shrugging of most of the companies proposing apps and services that leverage personal data from their users, with comments like: “Yeah we all know it feels a bit creepy, but it is just a matter of time before you get used to it”.
All, except Palantir Technology, who starts to talk “beyond legal” and about the ethical role of the coders and designers. We start to become aware that we are developing an algorithmic bias defined by the developer and the designer without understanding their intentions or motivations. And @changist recently tweeted that we are seeing the appearance of “the slaves of the algorithm”, a play of words on Grace Jones famous 1987 hit.
Breathe to the rhythm,
Dance to the rhythm,
Work to the rhythm,
Live to the rhythm,
Love to the rhythm,
Slave to the rhythm.
The platitudes on the ethical debate are numerous. We seem to forget that ethical norms can be and are different (not right/wrong) in different countries. This is spot-on the subject of the book “Moral Tribes” where the author Joshua Green calls for a meta-morality, bridging norms of tribes and countries.
Societal Impact and Vested interests
Diego Miralles, Global Head Innovation at Janssen, blew me away with his holistic vision. I would like to get him one day in front of our banking audience at Innotribe, because there are so many parallels with the financial industry.
The story of the Janssen Labs is a story of shared infrastructure. In this need for infrastructure in a highly regulated industry, there are of course so many parallels with financial sector. Like healthcare, many businesses are in essence highly dysfunctional.
But the powers in these businesses will try at all means to keep the status quo. Like the traditional taxi companies, they are at best aware that their own institutions are the friction in the system, a friction that they exploit for their own benefit, by monopolizing the frictions, making sure that the barriers for entry for newcomers are very high.
These are the models that try to suck as much value out of the system for their own benefit, without giving back to society. These are the models that privatize the profits and share the deficits with the citizen.
These powers will pay lip service to innovation, and in reality try to fight it as much as possible newcomers to safeguard the monopoly.
To me this sounds like a lack of ambition. A good example in financial services would be the holding-on to the correspondent-banking model. The ambition could be to re-invent the model in a world of hyper-connectivity, as already suggested by Heidi Miller during her fantastic speech at Sibos 2004.
Existential questions don’t have ready answers. But how did we get to this point?
Despite the financial crisis, not much has changed in the levels of ambition and having the courage to ask and answer difficult existential questions. Many institutions seem to content themselves sustaining the current system and its related services fee model for as long as possible.
The current system of medicine is based on the healer having all the knowledge and the recipient almost none. This asymmetry is again valid in many industries, especially data exploitation services. But hyper-connectivity is changing that.
I would love to see these institutions embrace the phase change that is in front of them. A phase change of a new meta-morality and the phase change of the system where we have the ambition to create physical and mental spaces where people come alive.
What if exponentially and scale are not relevant?
All the companies and models we have seen are based on exponential growth, on creating economies of scale. We seem to take for granted that future models will be based on exponential growth, speed, scale, and efficiency. We seem to forget that the exponential growth also leads to and exponential decrease of price. This could be a dead end street, with prices trending to zero.
What if the future model would not be based on exponentially, speed, scale, and efficiency?
What if uniqueness becomes more important than functional lego-bricks and efficiency?
Like art, where the primary objective is to make something that is beautiful and resonates deeply at a non-cognitive, sub-conscious level and created happiness and fulfillment at a whole different intensity and quality. Where we want to resonate at an emotional level with each other, with a well-measured level of sharing, beyond legality and morality, but at a level of human intimacy.
What if intimacy would be the new black?
At many moments during this tour, I became uncomfortable with the lack of critical conversations to balance of the over-glorification of technology. I became more and more hungry for depth and humanism in all this. And taking time to digest, reflect, synthesize and making sense.
I am on a quest for depth. My purpose is “To inspire other people to dream” (see many other posts on this blog). Move people from the depth of their oceans to the surface of the sea of insights.
In that context, I would like to close with this picture of one evening tour that week on a catamaran in San Francisco harbor.
Dreaming away… fog rolling in, when silence and critical self-reflection becomes more important than hollow words.
When mind goes beyond platitudes and copycatting like a parrot what other have written in books, TED talks, and beyond the abundance and exponentially of Singularity University.