Think Bigger. Aim Higher. Go Further.

Tag: Charlie Munger

The Facebook Basket of Goods

Facebook does not produce anything.  Facebook sells personal information to advertisers. This is not to say that Facebook is not worth a lot of money, but it certainly deserves a little perspective.  In order for Facebook to be worth anything, people must be doing things, making things, and organizing things – otherwise, there would be no need for the utility that Facebook provides.

Consumer Value Index

In order for people to do things and make things, there needs to be basic infrastructure like energy, clean water, telecommunications, food,  roads, bridges, and airports.  There needs to be housing, education, and health care.  There needs to be an effective and fair legal system, equitable political representation, and civil decency.

Debt or Human Potential

Facebook adds value to the human productivity potential that already exists.  It is precisely that invisible human potential that seems to be worth most of the money that Facebook commands.  When we estimate a value of 100 Billion dollars for Facebook –  an astonishing 99 times their advertising revenue – we estimate that the market believes that intangible value exceeds tangible value by a factor of 100:1; versus, say, Apple at 16:1 or Google at 20:1

Nothing economic happens until people get together to make something

Charles Munger, CFO of Berkshire Hathaway uttered these deeply foreboding words at a conference at Seattle University in reference to the Enron debacle;

“it’s bad enough when we lose the accounting profession, but dear God help us if we lose the Engineers”.

Suppose a team of 10 engineers designs a bridge that spans a body of water cutting 1 hour off the alternate route for 14,000 people per day (connecting 2 small towns).  Over the 75-year life of that bridge, those 10 engineers are responsible for 380 Million hours of increased productivity. At 25 dollars per hour per person whose time is saved, 10 engineers create nearly 10 billion dollars of NEW VALUE.  As such, only 100 engineers could create the same amount of New Value as Facebook is worth in an IPO.

You are worth what is measured

We need to ask ourselves what is more efficient; making things that act as a proxy for the things that we are trying to sell, or measuring the real value of things that we make.  Perhaps Facebook would be worth 10 Trillion dollars on such a balance sheet.  Maybe Facebook would be worth nothing if true value were in fact measurable. Who knows?

Well, that’s exactly the problem – nobody knows.

Facebook acts as a proxy for human productivity, just like money is a proxy for productivity, but with no intrinsic value itself.  Perhaps this explains their Wall Street convertibility.  However, if we backed Facebook with New Value of human potential, rather than a basket of debt-able goods, perhaps we would not have a financial crisis to deal with, just a value crisis.

I wonder what Charlie Munger would say

The Geek Shall Inherit The Earth

Engineers are notoriously bad at organizing themselves – or maybe not. 

Engineers tend to stay to themselves and are rarely mentioned in the domains of media, politics, Hollywood, banking, medicine, or law.  Traditional engineering societies are weak and sparse.  Nobody even thinks about paying them royalties for the satellites that carry our smart phone signals.

Some say that Engineers can’t see the forest through the trees.  Others say that Engineers have little tolerance for banter, conjecture, diatribe and all the triviality of mixing with the rest of the world.  Yet, few can argue that Engineers are the ones we all need to show up every day to keep the water clean, the airplanes safe, the code logical, and the law enforceable.

Money is backed by productivity, otherwise, nobody would work for it – think about that for a moment. 

Why would anyone work for something that does not represent what he or she creates?   However, few people notice that productivity is the domain of engineering.  The machines that they create, the bridges that they build, the code they write, and the infrastructure they lay exists for the sole purpose of supporting human productivity.

Whose money is it?

So why are most engineers strangely silent in the emerging discussion about new economies, alternate currencies, and the New Value Movement?  Who are these people and why should we care about them?  I attended a lecture with Charlie Munger, CFO of Berkshire Hathaway who stated in reference to the Enron collapse “it’s bad enough when we lose the accounting profession, but dear God help us if we lose the Engineers”. Charlie cares.

We call them Geeks – but what is really going through their minds?   What would happen if they did organize – or are they already?  Where will they hide all the Value that bankers can’t find anymore? Or has the game already changed? Remember who inherited the hamlet of Hamelin.

Social Enterprise; The Vetting Mechanism; #1

I read many articles with rants like “all this social network stuff is cool – but show us the money”.  Innovation Economics offers a way to see new markets and new businesses that are currently hidden by “the old way” of doing things.   This article is part of a series called ‘Business Plans of the Innovation Economy” which will identify ways that Social Networks can command huge markets and drive vast revenues – if, and only if, they align themselves in a specific way….

Managers manage through experience. They observe a situation and compare it to prior situations they have encountered. Through a process of intuitive (statistical) analysis, they calculate the probability of success based on the success or failure of prior experience. This is the reason why managers are often older and also why youth correlates with inability to manage.  The depth and breadth of one’s experience is often called wisdom.

Today’s problems, business opportunities, technological change, and competitive strategies are so complex and so integrated across the globe that no single person can accumulate in a lifetime the experience needed to manage at what is called a Pareto Efficiency. A Pareto Efficiency, named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, is an economic condition where a one’s actions benefits at least one person while leaving no other person less better off.

The problem with the “top-down” management structure is that the “top” no longer has a statistically relevant sample of prior experiences from which to fully understand the probable future outcome of their actions – the consequence is that someone always gets screwed (Pareto Inefficient).

The concept of Pareto Efficiency may be what people are today inadvertently calling “sustainability”.  I recently saw the movie Syriana with George Clooney about the petroleum industry in the Middle East.  It was a convoluted mix of 5 different stories.  Each story had its hero doing what they thought was in the best interest of those they represent – “the common people”.   Yet the combination of actions carried out by these heroes was absolutely disastrous for all of them.  So no matter how benevolent one’s intentions are – and I believe that most corporate managers are acting in the highest integrity that they know – this systemic failure of knowledge will always hurt someone, continually adding to those already at the fringes.

The world of imperfect information is therefore the enemy of sustainability.   Perfect information is when everyone associated with a business transaction has the exact same information as everyone else.  Perfect information is what makes markets efficient and decisions rational.  Agreement is perfectly mutual, supply and demand are perfectly aligned, all risks are perfectly predictable and cause and effect are perfectly transparent.

It follows that any business plan that simply improves information in a market can command revenues proportional to the degree at which market efficient is improved.  For example; Ebay owes its 50 Billion dollar market capitalization to the feedback system which supplies improved information in a market.  Carfax, The FAA, Craigslist, Democratic Government – all have vetting mechanisms that make their prospective markets more efficient.

Likewise, when the vetting mechanisms fail, the market fails.  I attended a lecture once with Charlie Munger, CFO of Berkshire Hathaway.  Regarding Enron, he said (paraphrase) “It’s tragic enough when the accounting profession goes bad, but God help us if we lose the engineers”.

This brings us back to management.  The business plan of the millennium will be the art and science of perfect information.  We know that no single human can accumulate enough experience, however, we also know that perfect information can reside in many people – it is simply a matter of finding the perfect group of people who collectively possess perfect information.

This relatively simple task is entirely and irrevocably the domain of Social Networks. Social Networks are sufficiently enabled by current technology to perform this essential and highly lucrative task – if and only if they align themselves accordingly.  Social Networks need to hold a complete and detailed inventory of resident knowledge.  Social Networks must cooperate to codify social capital, creative capital, and intellectual capital so that computational methods can be used to assemble unique collection of persons holding unique collections of experiences. That unique set of knowledge assets must then be deployed precisely in the market, ideally targeting specific transactions.

If Real Estate Agents can command 6% of a gazillion dollar housing market and bankers can take another huge chunk – and not even do a very good job at providing perfect information – only to get bailed those at the fringes.  Social Networking have a moral, ethical, and entrepreneurial obligation to compete in the sustainability game.

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