Think Bigger. Aim Higher. Go Further.

Month: October 2011

Plenty of Work But Where Is The Knowledge?

Millions of people are looking for Jobs.  Meanwhile, employers complain of a chronic “skills mismatch” that prevents them from hiring people or initiating new innovations.

When an engineer is laid off from an airplane manufacturer, a company like Starbucks has no idea what that person knows even though aircraft and milk steamers have a great deal in common from the perspective of the Engineer (both are pressure vessels subject to extreme environmental conditions).

The same is true for a marine engineer, and HVAC engineer, or an electrostatic coating machinery engineer.  Each of these disciplines has far more in common than they have differences.  However, if you compare the descriptions for any of these jobs, they sound like they all happen on different planets.

God forbid you are not an expert on MS Excel, which only takes a few hours for almost anyone to learn – yet not tagging that radio button can negate 20 years of experience that only 1% of people have the desire, discipline, and intellect to achieve.

The same holds true for many talents and professions. There are serious problems with the way that we discern the supply and demand for knowledge assets.

What is needed is an intermediate knowledge inventory in the commons that everyone can index to.  So when an engineer tags “pressure vessels” the term registers into the resident ontology of all observers.

Why is this better?

Of course companies are trying to eliminate variance and risk by hiring a person who has been trained by someone else – preferable a direct competitor.  On the other hand, the mantra of modern business is to innovate.  Innovation does not happen by duplicating yesterday’s ideas. Mixing diverse combinations of knowledge assets, and not all common knowledge assets, accelerates the process of Innovation.  Think of all the music that is yet to be created for lack of musicians to play the different instruments.

An intermediate knowledge inventory solves both problems by allowing companies to introduce diverse knowledge assets without introducing irrelevant knowledge assets.  It also gives people far more mobility to pursue specialties that they are most talented and interested in.  As such, the allocation of knowledge assets would improve to match supply of knowledge with the demand for knowledge in an innovation economy.

There is not a shortage or work, only a shortage of knowledge about knowledge.  

Where Teachers Hold an Equity Position

Teachers are “threatened” with layoffs. In some cases, the profession is openly mocked. Meanwhile, corporations are staring blankly at the knowledge gap in their industries.  The older generation is retiring, moving on, and taking their knowledge with them.  Teacher’s unions are busted and disappearing. Apprenticeships are a thing of the past.  Everyone is asking “where are the jobs – there is plenty of work to do”

Education is obviously a financial instrument.  Think about that for a minute – it is an investment like any other investment. Wall Street has an arbitrage instrument for every market anomaly – why not education?

What would happen if teachers were given an equity position in their students?  Isn’t this what families do to prepare their kids to take over the family business?  Isn’t this what happens in corporations where executives pick proteges?  Isn’t this what happens in politics where knowledge is traded among a closed group?

A school like Harvard University or MIT certainly hold and equity position in their students. What if every community viewed every child as an asset instead of a liability?

The Science of Change

Calculus has been called the greatest achievement of the human mind.  Yes, it is a little difficult to understand … until one day it becomes the simplest, most obvious, and glorious form of expression ever imagined.  Like a musical instrument, there is a point where all the symbols and lines can disappear and the artist can express himself or herself in the medium of the art – leading to many more great achievements of human mind.

The Science of Change

Calculus is amazing because it can make the invisible visible.  From sub-atomic particles, gravity, silicon circuits, diffusion of medicine through cell walls, to the discovery of new planets in distant solar systems – none of which are directly visible to the observer, yet their existence enables human imagination, innovation, cooperation, and social development at the most fundamental form.

Changing Wall Street

Wall Street lives quite comfortably in our homes, political system, our food , and our occupations – without being seen directly. Wall Street is utterly invisible.  Most of their work doesn’t even happen on Wall Street.  How did they accomplish this?  How were they so successful in occupying Main Street without being seen?

The Trojan Proxy

Wall Street is a mathematical construct – it exists in the form of symbols and numbers, or, “proxies” for making stuff – but not the actual stuff itself.   That is the vulnerability that we can easily exploit.  If we are smart, we can dismantle Wall Street brick by brick and they will happily walk right through the door because “our door” – the knowledge asset inventory – can be made indistinguishable from any other “proxy” for making stuff.  (I write extensively on this strategy in the prior posts).

There is a bigger message here that I hope does not get lost in the clamor.  There is likewise a very easy way to occupy Wall Street, however, it’s going to take a little mathematical cleverness. How do we make them visible to us and ourselves invisible to them.

The key is that we need to change ourselves. We need to transform, not them.  We don’t need to occupy Wall Street, we simply need to occupy Main Street because that is where they occupy us.  It is not enough to marvel at our numbers, civil disobedience, and cardboard signs.  We need a Science of change so that we can do so.

Supply and Demand for Knowledge Assets

If we follow the Wall Street accounting model, the supply and demand for knowledge assets are cast against the factors of production; land, labor, and capital.  The typical corporate human resource department looks to the community for labor units within commuting distance to a factory, and who are willing to rent their time in exchange a minimum amount of money.

But Land is Obsolete

Technology has made the idea of “land” as a factor of production almost obsolete.  Knowledge assets travel over the Internet and can be deployed and organized in many ways across long distances without a factory.  Indeed there are server farms and automation houses where things are made if needed – but these are hardly factors of production as they once were.

What exactly is a Labor unit again?

Machines have replaced much of what we once called “labor”.  I am sitting at Starbucks where a smiling robot is the only thing missing from the age of automated lattes.  The social, creative, and intellectual capital required to create, design, maintain, and serve the technology is what ushers us into the knowledge economy and the associated innovation economy.

Capital is arbitrary

Everyone knows that money is created out of thin air when someone allocates their future productivity to the bankers balance sheet in exchange for a place to sleep.  When this game loses its entertainment value, “capital” as a factor of production will also become obsolete.

The Supply and Demand for Knowledge Assets:

Knowledge assets are deployed by teachers and replicated by student.  Teachers represent the supply of knowledge and students represent the demand for knowledge.  In between these two extremes are collaborations – that is, varying combinations of teaching and learning that ultimately results in a productive outcome such as a latte, automobile, or computer program.

If we sample a population of knowledge assets across some geographic area (Land) we would expect to find something that looks like a bell curve.

If the bell curve has a different shape, this tells us what things can be made and what things cannot (Labor).

So when people allocate their own productivity, they are in effect assigning their productivity to a community balance sheet (Capital).  They are saying “this is what we are willing to make because we have the freedom, liberty, and we intion to pursue our happiness”.

Hardly a Wall Street model.

The result is that the social, creative, and intellectual assets of people must now replace Land, Labor, and Capital as factors of production in the new value economy.  Trying to produce anything less would be inefficient in a Capitalist system – perhaps some may have noticed as much lately.

A Better Way To Occupy Wall Street

What if I told you that we could occupy Wall Street without actually camping out there?  In case you have not noticed, Wall Street occupies your house without you ever seeing any suits milling around your driveway.  So what’s the plan?

In the Age of The Internet, redistribution of wealth should not be a very difficult thing to do, yet the approach is surprisingly low-tech.  Just look at the pictures; if this is going to be our approach, then we’re in deep trouble.

Here’s the trick. Wall Street is built on a foundation where the factors of production are land, labor, and capital.  All we need to do is shift the factors of production to something else. We don’t actually need to shift Wall Street, we need to shift ourselves.

The reality is that the today’s economy is built on social, creative, and intellectual factors of production – these are the factors of production of that so-called 99% of the value of our economy.  It’s a knowledge economy, remember?

Now, notice how land and labor are constrained by geography, property laws, political districts, and “national borders”. Also notice that the accounting system (capital) is as anonymous as possible, if not shrouded in secrecy.  Do you remember how Steve Jobs told us that it’s OK to copy good ideas?

First, we need to build a knowledge inventory of all the useful stuff in our brains and integrated by geographic proximity so we all can find each other.  This is how we’ll mimic land and labor.  Next, the knowledge inventory must be anonymous until the point of transaction – this is not for privacy concerns, rather, we need to do this to create scarcity (nothing personal, Zuck).  This is how we mimic “capital”.

At the end of the day, your knowledge inventory is your personal API – you create your own value and integrate with others or withhold it as you wish…just like Wall Street. Of course, everyone would then need to become a corporation so that we can pay our fair share of taxes (but not a penny more). That’s code for “too big to fail”.

Have you forgotten about Wall Street yet?  If so, it’s not too early to coin the term APIcracy.

It Is Time To Evolve

I saw a Fox News commentary on the Occupy Wall Street movement.  They interviewed a bunch of kids who were taking part in the parade and asked them a simple question: “So, what do you expect to replace Capitalism with?”

Then Fox, in their fair and balanced tradition, portrayed their subjects as the poster children of a failed education system (some children left behind after all) and further testimony to the failure of the Obama Administration. because obviously “These kids don’t know how the real world works”.

The Pundits can’t climb the tree any better.

Unfortunately, nobody else has an answer to that question either – none of the pundits or anchors produced anything except the tired argument that we tried Socialism and it failed so therefore more Capitalism is the only way to fix Capitalism.

It’s a Simple Problem

Market Capitalism only articulates value in the things that people make which can physically sit on a market shelf.  Market Capitalism does not articulate the value of individual people; those things that people make in society.

Of course, it is also a double edge sword since those that really don’t produce anything – like hedge fund managers, pundits, and politicians – will become impoverished. Meanwhile, those who really do produce things – like teachers, engineers, and firemen – will become wealthy.  So watch how the lines are redrawn in this debate.

How the world really works

The Internet and social media have shifted the factors of production away from land, labor, and capital to a higher order of human organization.  This is what we need to be talking about.  People today produce things with knowledge – social, creative, and intellectual knowledge.  These are the factors of production for that 99% of the value that exists on Earth.

A Simple Solution

After many a blue face, I’ll say it again; there is no way to build anything meaningful without an inventory of parts.  Car companies have inventories of parts, Banks have inventories of assets, even biology has an inventory of genomes – but there is no knowledge inventory for our communities.  We don’t know what we do or do not know.  We have absolutely no idea how valuable we are yet we complain that we’re impoverished.  Meanwhile corporation create technology to replace people when people could be just as easily be creating technology to replace corporations.

How on Earth can we determine supply and demand for knowledge assets without an inventory?  How can we expect to create any type of fair and rational economy from a bunch of invisible stuff milling around the parks?  There is no escape from Market Capitalism and no path to Social Capitalism without a Knowledge Inventory, period.

A Stunning Omission

This is a very easy problem to solve and we have all the cards waiting to be stacked in our favor using the tools that are right in front of our collective noses.  If we fail at something so simple, then we deserve to be enslaved.  After all, 100,000 years ago, such people would have been eaten by tigers.  It’s time to Evolve.

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