Think Bigger. Aim Higher. Go Further.

Month: January 2009

To Awaken a Giant

“Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished”.

– Barak Obama

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The gloves are off:

Mr. Obama’s statement is profound; in a single stroke, he liberated social capital, creative capital, and intellectual capital from the oppressive arm of the financial markets.  This sends a strong message to entrenched and corrupted financial operatives that they no longer hold a monopoly on American productivity.

The factors of production carried over from the last century; land, labor, and capital, can be now be challenged by social capital, creative capital, and intellectual capital as factors of production for an Innovation Economy.

The third option:

Q. So how exactly does a country meet a 50+ Trillion dollar obligation?
A. It depends on the social agreement.

First, we could default and let the system crash. Second, we could endeavor to pay it back by committing the next several generations to servitude of the debt.  Or, there is the third option that nobody talks about.

Create a new currency.

Almost every country has done it.  Mexico replaced the old “Peso” with a “New Peso” (worth 1000 old Pesos).  Europe created a new common currency.  Chinese Yuan is a “bridge currency” that gets them from point A to point B. Each of these examples is different, but they have one very important element in common; they are utterly dependent on a social agreement.

People must agree to exchange the new currency on the streets.  Social agreement, creative agreement, and intellectual agreement drives entrepreneurship and all must be achieved completely or “black markets” will form undermining the entire system.

The Tipping Point

We know a few things about currency outcomes.  If inflation occurs, people with “cash” will lose it, while people with “debt” will see it deflate.  The US can erase the deficit by inducing inflation and deflating the debt if production capacity remains undiminished. People, organizations, and governments that have exactly as much cash as they have debt will see no net loss or gain.  In fact, the entire world’s financial system is worth exactly as much as it owes to itself – minus the value of social capital, creative capital, intellectual capital and natural resources – now, set free. 

Social Agreement

As inflation progresses, there will be a point where a critical mass of the “social agreement” will hold the same amount of cash as they hold debt – their net loss will be zero.  That’s when the system can reboot.  obviously there will be serious consequences to any of the options, but this time, unlike any other time in history, social media will be the vehicle upon which the social agreement is catalyzed and not necessarily mandated by policy makers.

The Obama Factor

“Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America”

Mr. Obama is right – the outcome depends on us. We cannot expect government or corperations to attend to all of our needs because we are the ones who individually and collectively own and control the factors of production that will support the next currency. The road to opportunity has been cleared and the invitation has been cast.  We must now reach deep into our imagination and define the new business system where social capital, creative capital, and intellectual capital are directly tangible in a new global economic imperative; the Innovation Economy.

The Relationship Economist

The Office of the Relationship Economist of the United States:

President Obama said in his inaugural address;

“Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished”

This is true; so what changed?

Mr. Obama’s statement is profound; in a single stroke, he divorced human knowledge, talent, creativity, and intellect from dependency on the financial markets.  In one short statement, he reversed the old world order where economic growth drives relationships rather than relationships driving economic growth. Mr. Obama has made people tangible as financial instruments in their own right.  The language needed to change, only then could the relationships change and therefore, the economics.

Calculus: The Science of Change.

Change is everywhere.  The only thing certain is change itself. We vote for change we can believe in, we are aware of climate change, and we see the world constantly changing all around us. Each of these sentiments is an expression of the mathematical discipline of Calculus

Calculus got a bad rap with most of us in High School. Calculus has boring charts, funny symbols, strange sentences, and objects flying around in a frictionless space – nothing could be further from reality, so it seemed.  In reality, however, nothing could be simpler.  Early civilization noticed that seasons change over time. Farmers noticed that plants changed over time. Isaac Newton noticed that the speed of the apple changed over time as it fell.  Copernicus noticed that the location of the planets changed over time, etc.  We all notice and respond to change.

Economics: The science of Incentives:

Bankers noticed that the value of money could also change.  To lend money out for future repayment, there is a likelihood that something will change; good change, bad change, or no change. So, in order to avoid bad change and to keep good change, the lender charges “interest” on the money.  Interest represents the change of money over time – but not the reality of the change itself. Consequently, the change of money induced incentives for people to behave differently and this changed reality. For better and worse, reality reflected the incentives rather than the incentives reflecting reality.

The Language of Change:

Today our language is changing at an incredible speed – most words associated with the human condition have changed in definition over only a few decades ago. The words “relationship”, “society”, “marketing”, “innovation”, “media”, “democracy”, “productivity”, and many others, all have expanded meanings.  Now we need to create new words to describe new realities; Computer enabled society, Social Capitalism, Web 3.0, relationship economy, innovation economy.  What is the incentive?

Relationship: The Science of Communication

Now here is where Calculus gets complicated: If words are changing and communication is connected to the words, then communication is changing too.  If communication is changing, and productivity is connected to communication, then productivity is changing too. If productivity is changing, and the economy is connected to productivity, then the economy is changing too.

The Relationship Economy:

Just like money, the change in our relationships induces an incentive or disincentive to behave a certain way.  For better or worse, incentives will reflect reality rather than reality reflecting the incentibes.  That’s a game changer.

Social Clipping and the Amazing Disappearing Economy

In the early 1990’s, the NAFTA Mutual Recognition Document (MRD) for engineering professionals was the first modern attempt to treat knowledge like a financial instrument. Unfortunately it failed because of a tiny little flaw that I call ‘social clipping’.

Most trade agreements that followed were modeled after NAFTA and, as such, inherited the clipping flaw.  The flaw is that ‘products’, but not the knowledge assets that created them, are mobile in a global economy.

The MRD handed the knowledge economy to Mexico on a silver platter; but they turned it down.  The government did not want to give their engineers “wings” because they were afraid that they would fly away.  Instead, Mexico chose to sell their extraordinary young engineering talent off cheap to meet quotas promised to Asian, European, and American companies to relocate huge manufacturing plants to the country. Today, Mexico competes with China in a race to the bottom of a manufacturing economy and almost no indigenous design industries.

Two-way street:

Back then, the protesters raged about an influx of cheap foreign engineers to the US.  But many US engineers saw that Mexico needed everything that engineers make – roads, bridges, infrastructure, etc. The needs were endless and the objective was clear; to increase human productivity in Mexico was to create real and sustainable wealth.  Maybe then, the citizens would not need to fly away.

These infrastructure projects could have been funded because the Professional Engineering License behaves like a financial instrument mitigating project risks (so that nothing “disappears”). Only then banks would lend and insurers would insure.  The transfer of knowledge and accountability to Mexico would have been extraordinary; the relationships, profound; their development progress, astonishing.

The Disappearing Economy

But the MRD died by clipping.  Mexican Engineers would have been required to take the same engineering examinations as US engineer.  The government refused citing concern that they could not pass. So, in 1994-1997, this author directed a large comparative education project sending over 250 engineers to the US professional engineering examination (EIT).  The Mexican Pass rate was extraordinary – they were easily comparable to the US pass rate in most subjects and flat-out superior in mathematics.  There was nothing wrong with Mexican engineers, or the culture; there was something wrong with the financial system that keeps them invisible.

Knowledge is Power

As the story goes, Mexico has a family oriented culture where hierarchy is often based on seniority; a common examination may favor recent graduates.  It would be inappropriate for a young engineer to have authority over a more senior engineer.  Dig a little deeper and the real problem was power. In Mexico, power is concentrated among very few people.  It would have been unacceptable for transparency to exist.

We are facing a similar situation in America today.  Power has been steadily consolidating over the years.  A huge and fast stimulus package will enter a financial system with a shortage of vetting institutions. There is a strong pull toward ‘business as usual’ – creating J-O-B-S; not necessarily more entrepreneurs, engineers, or mentors, and certainly not empowering whistle blowers.  In the knowledge economy, Americans salaries are pegged to off-shore outsourcing. This is a game that we can no longer win playing by the rules.

Social clipping

As we have seen with less developed nations; when people are held below a certain economic level, they fail to organize for innovation, social change, entrepreneurship, and value creation because they are too busy trying to pay off debt and feed their families.  Social capital, creative capital, and intellectual capital are muted; that’s when the magic of innovation disappears. That’s social clipping.

America must move on to the next level of economic growth.  The Innovation economy is a game we can win playing by new rules. Government must trust the people, empower social media, and not clip our wings with an outdated economic model.

Socialism, Capitalism, or Social Capitalism

Throughout history, technological change has also brought changes in the organization of society around the new ways to allocate resources.  The industrial revolution spawned the two prevailing economic theories of our time; Capitalism and Socialism.

The current wave of technological change will likely spawn new economic theories and social organization systems as well – it makes no sense to look to the past for reference to the future of anything.

Capitalism arose from feudalism and is roughly characterized by a merchant class that owns the factors of production (land, labor, and capital) and a working class whose physical toil adds value to natural resources.  The capitalist acting in their own best interest is ultimately acting in the best interest of society by creating jobs that employ people.

Then Karl Marx came along and noted the inherent conflict where the workers would seek to maximize their wages and the merchants would seek to minimize wages.  He argued that class struggle would ultimately result in a communist system replacing the capitalist system. The communist acting in the best interest of society is ultimately acting in their own best interest.  Socialism is widely regarded as the transitional stage between capitalism and communism.

But the struggle is really over the control of the means of production, or factors of production. “Are land, labor, and capital” private property or public property? Are these notions even relevant in the age of the Internet?

Today, computer enabled society engaged in an innovation economy presents an entirely new set of conditions.  What happens when the factors of production are social capital, creative capital, and intellectual capital?  How are these “means of production” going to be controlled and by whom?

This is a serious philosophical quandary that will be brought down upon us in the next generation of social media because neither socialism or capitalism are applicable in a traditional sense. Like Heisenberg’s theory of indeterminacy – the more control you have over one factor, the less control you have over the other.  This is not a condition related to the ability to control someone or something, rather, it is a condition related to the nature of the system itself.  That’s a big deal.

For the traditional Socialist: in order to control social capital, one must equalize society – as such, the system retains little innovation production value.  In order to control creative capital, one must standardize creativity – likewise, the system retains little innovation production value.  In order to control intellectual capital, one must control the intellectual development of another – again, the system retains little innovation production value.

Likewise for the traditional Capitalist: In your world is no ROI to curb global warming, there is no ROI to educate the poor, there is no ROI for human rights, and there is no ROI on the national debt, etc. As such, the system is constrained by the social burden to innovate – you can no longer scale.

There is, however, a business plan to liberate social capital, creative capital, and intellectual capital as tangible financial instruments in their own right, by definition, reflecting social priorities in an innovation economy.  This is where the next generation of social media is leading to – and it scales magnificently.  Have you noticed?

That is Social Capitalism.

The Trojan Horse; A Classic Social Fraud

Periods of change in any market open the doors for abuse as control systems often lag behind the waves.  This is especially true for social capitalism where the social contract is changing rapidly and the enforcement mechanisms are largely non-existent.

All markets must have effective vetting mechanisms in order for the market to be viable.  If the game is not fair – real investors and real entrepreneurs don’t walk, they run…away.  While much fraud is obvious and predictable, the most damaging is the type that nobody sees coming but can destroy the standard of trust for everyone, forever, like the Trojan horse.

Hypothetical Case Study:

A self-proclaimed innovation consultant runs a blog out of anywhere USA.  They have a catchy domain name and their ranking is unusually high for a 5 month old blog with splashy but infrequent articles.

In the spirit of the X-prize, the blogger promotes an Innovation Contest offering $60,000 dollars worth of his company’s “Marketing Consultation” services as a prize to the next innovation that will change the world! … as judged by a “panel of experts”.  The blogger encourages all entrants to send their social network to vote up their innovation as this will weigh heavily into the judging.  Many people submit their work and diligently mine their Facebook and Linkedin networks for the vote.

The contest ends and the winning idea earned zero external votes but it is in an industry that is very popular in mainstream media and slated for government stimulus.  However, it is clearly not up to par with many of the other entrants.  Upon inquiry, the blog author does not specify the criteria for judging, he does not itemize the prize, he does not publish his “panel of experts” and he does not post any dissenting opinions or inquiries submitted to the moderated comments.

A few days later, a press release appears on Google news; “$60,000 dollar innovation contest prize awarded for breakthrough in targeted industry”.  Leading tech media pick up the story and the “consultant” is hailed for defending the struggle of the unsung heroes of the innovation economy.  It appears to the contestants that the consultant is promoting himself at their expense.

So, what’s wrong with that?

First; for all of the innovators who submit themselves to judgment and expend their social capital on votes, the integrity of the contest must be bullet-proof.  The definition of the objective, the judges, and judging criteria must be specified absolutely. Otherwise, good ideas will not be shared.

Second; if potential sponsors of a legitimate X-prize-type contest are challenged in their sincerity to promote world-changing innovation, and instead are accused of self-promotion and media bias, a tremendously valuable resource of the innovation economy will be squandered.

Finally; if a person’s social networks are mobilized to vote in any type of contest – they must know that the time they invest will be respected and valued or they will no longer participate in other contests.

To this day, the clever ruse of the Trojans remains the fraud of choice for new market technologies. It has also marked the standard of trust that we hold forth in our relationships and invitation to our inner circle. Sharing of one’s friends is a deeply intimate act of faith and trust many times greater than sharing one’s ideas. The caregivers, those who hold forth the willingness to nurture that trust, must be qualified as stewards of the public endowment of social capital, creative capital, and intellectual capital.

Social Capitalism depends heavily on the function and performance of communities. A “paranoid bias” could be vastly damaging – possibly constraining the next great paradigm of economic development from achieving critical mass.   Social Capitalism is not a game, it’s serious business.

The Shift to Social Capitalism

As computer enabled society marches toward social capitalism as a result of overburdened financial institutions, a new generation of social media applications will form to emulate those institutions.  Social capital, creative capital, and intellectual capital will increasingly behave like tangible assets.

Economic and Privacy

Our credit score is a statistical sampling system in which we compete with ourselves for the cost of money.  We lose some privacy with the credit score, but we accept these terms to the degree that we enjoy the benefit.  After all, we can literally print money today to build a businesses backed by future productivity (financial capitalism).  If this benefit disappears, so too will the paradigm and something else will take its place.

Social Media and Privacy

Similarly, we lose privacy with social media; we drop our resume on Monster, we post our profile to Facebook, we express opinion on a Blog, and search engines display this activity.  But we accept these terms to the degree that we enjoy some benefit from our social network.  Whatever that benefit is, we know that it is real, it is tangible, and it has value – otherwise, people would not do it.  This is the nascent domain of Social Capitalism.

Cover your Assets

Like financial capitalism, social capitalism will be the ability to borrow knowledge assets today to build a business backed by future productivity of those assets.  In order to anticipate how social capitalism may be structured, we continue with the analogy:

The FICO equation churns about 22 variables related to your financial behavior. These variables include debt load, asset value, income, payment history, etc. Input data comes from past lenders for the benefit of future lenders, as well as insurance companies, employers, public disclosure, etc. The credit score predicts the likelihood that your future productivity is worthy thereby allowing the lender to hedge risk accordingly.

Computer Enabled Society

If we reconstruct computer enabled society in the same form, we notice some interesting similarities as well as differences.  Instead of 22 financial variables, social variables appear as events demonstrating social, creative, and intellectual capital. Input data comes from Social networking applications such as profiles, blogs, referrals, etc.  Finally, search engine placement registers your social credit score.  Have you Googled your name lately?

As imperfect as this may sound, remember that computer enabled society has not fully developed on the ground. Social Capitalism is in the beginning stages and there is great opportunity in improving this system if we know how it should work because the value of the paradigm, by default, could be in the trillions of dollars.

Next Generation Business Methods

The next great business opportunities will be in the area localizing, mobilizing, organizing, vetting, classification, and normalization social capital, creative capital, and intellectual capital.  These elements will contribute to one’s social credit score which buys access to share information and knowledge. Geographic location will become an essential SEO component as diverse communities cluster around technologies and tangential innovations.  Many of the functions that drive a traditional corporation will exist in communities governed by social economic incentives.  As a consequence, not as a cause, social capitalism will reflect social priorities as the term currently implies.

Social Capitalism and The innovation Economy

Social Capitalism fueling an innovation economy may become the most powerful engine of economic growth in human history if structured correctly, and a dud if not.  We are much closer than anyone realizes and the path is becoming increasingly clear. There is great cause for optimism in the next few years of social media development and social capitalism.

Pride, Prejudice, and the Relationship Economy

Fifteen years ago, I found myself at a remarkable crossroad of social networking.  I had just delivered a paper on the NAFTA Mutual Recognition Document (MRD) for Engineering Professionals at an academic conference at a University in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico.  Those were exciting times; the MRD was the first modern attempt to treat knowledge like a tangible financial instrument.

My paper was well received and after so much preparation, I decided to take a walk to unwind.  It was a warm evening and I hiked briskly down a side street drifting deep into contemplation about the possibility of a great new international social network.  Engineers from both developed and less-developed countries could build the infrastructure for real economic growth against the forces of oppression and cheap labor.

Soon, the pavement turned to dirt and I realized that I was very lost.  I looked up through the haze of smoke and dust casting awkward shadows from a lonely street lamp through the tangle of power lines. Nearby, a group of Cholos sipped their Caguamas from various crouch positions.  In the distance the sound of Mariachi music, dogs barking, a televised soccer match, and a crying baby droned on in a muted cacophony. The smell of Carne Asada combined oddly with musty earth, car exhaust, and a distant sewer vent. The world suddenly became surreal as my enthusiasm for social networking gave way to foreboding anxiety.

In the corner of my eye, I caught the shadow of a figure limping toward me from behind a brick wall long under construction.  Old, torn and stained ranchero style clothing hung from the frame of the dark figure that approached.  His boot heals were worn to the ground and his broad dark bandito mustache hung low contrasting with groomed hair.  His weathered face, expressionless, relayed his many years of life in the parched desert.

My anxiety turned to terror as my worst fear appeared before my eyes. This dark stranger raised his hand to reveal the shiny barrel of a very large handgun.  I was too scared to move.  My mind raced as my heart screamed out “DEAR GOD, PLEASE DON’T LET IT END LIKE THIS”.  Then, in a smooth reverent motion, the dark stranger held the pistol flat with both hands as if presenting a gift.

He calmly spoke in simple Spanish, “Would you like to buy my pistol?” After an long pause, I found myself stuttering back in my broken Spanish “You have a very nice gun sir, but I am not in the market for one today, thank you”.  He returned the weapon to his pocket and offered a sincere salutation of good health to me and my family before walking back into the darkness.  At that moment, he reminded me more of my late grandfather who I missed dearly rather than evil presence I so feared a mere 20 seconds earlier.

My heart raced as I retraced my steps back to Campus.  Suddenly it occurred to me:  If this old man thought that I had enough money to buy his gun, why didn’t he use the gun to take my money?  I asked a local colleague about my experience to which his response was, “The old man saw that you looked respectable.  He knew that you could be trusted with the responsibility of owning the weapon and not present a threat to his family, children or community (i.e., HIS social network)”

I realized that this poor dark stranger of the night paid me the highest professional compliment I have ever received.  I can only hope to find in myself the humility to live up to his prejudice and to live down to my own.

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