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Tag: joseph schumpeter

Social Media; The Central Bank for Knowledge Assets?

It is very interesting to watch Social Media follow familiar trajectories as earlier paradigms in finance.  I see many social media platforms struggling to make human knowledge tangible in their respective markets.  The challenge is so simple, yet so complex.  Let the litmus test for knowledge tangibility be as follows; “Can you buy groceries with it?”

The Romans Empire had a similar problem; how to sack Europe and bring home the booty.  The only thing most people had at the time were sheep, fish, and wine.  So the emperor created a coin that represented a peasant’s productivity in raising sheep, catching fish, and making wine – and it was a lot easier to collect taxes.  The conquest of a continent has far more to do with the social acceptance of the currency than the actual pillaging – pillaging, after all, would be counter productive in a social network.

Today the dollar also represents human productivity – except a ‘necessary flaw’ was introduced to finance innovation leading to fantastic worldwide economic growth from which many people benefit greatly.  Now, this flaw threatens to topple the whole system.  Money still represents productivity, except it now represents future productivity allocated to paying debt.  As long as innovation increases fast enough to outpace debt, everything is OK.  Problems happen when debt exceeds our structural ability to innovate.

We do not need to restructure the financial system – we need to restructure the innovation system.  The human race is exceedingly fortunate that the end game for debt economics will happen at the exact moment in history that the technology required to start a new game of sustainable innovation economics has arrived.   If done correctly, Social Media (computer enabled society) can become the most important human invention since to the printing press.

Today, human knowledge, in the form of social capital, creative capital, and intellectual capital, is captured and hidden inside corporations.  Each corporation has its own business plan, lexicon, culture, organization, structure, and processes by which human knowledge is exchanged in the creation of a “product”.  Outside the corporation, however, true knowledge assets are either invisible, incomplete, or only appear as a proxy of the corporation.  This leads to stagnation, silos, mis-allocation, vulnerability to external shock, and greatly limits the diversity needed for sustainable innovation.

In the 1700’s Banks printed their own currency – these were called “bank notes” because they were little notes that declared who had a surplus and who had a deficit of money relative to the bank.  People would trade these notes in society to purchase things, buy feed or seed, and to keep track of things.  Everyone had a job to do and the general flow of these notes is what “incorporated” townships. Unfortunately, such banking also lead to industrial stagnation, silos of wealth, and lack of diversification leading to corruption, bank failures, and ‘bottle necks’ in the flow of capital.

Barely 150 years ago, the U.S. government established a central banking system with common currency, common practices, common accounting, and common regulation. The system became much more efficient, diversified, and accessible across the landscape.  The industrial revolution, manufacturing revolution, lots of wars, the era of information, and the Internet Industries were all financed through a central banking system.  Human productivity increased at a tremendous rate and the relative wealth that we enjoy today is a tangible result of innovation.

Now the Pied Piper has come to take the children to sea.  The banking system needs to invent new, exotic, and increasingly risky financial instruments for trading your productivity in order to keep the game alive.  Meanwhile, the tangibility of human knowledge is stuck in an 18th century banking system.  There is no common knowledge inventory, there is no common accounting practice for skills and abilities, there is no way to measure social capital and creative capital – the system is too biased toward “intellectual capital” measured by Ivy League degrees and access to wealth.  Knowledge assets are not tangible, organized, classified, or collected in a society in any structured way.  “Can you buy groceries with it yet”?

With the emergence of Social Media, we have an extraordinary opportunity to make knowledge tangible outside the construct of a corporation much like banks notes became tangible outside the construct of a single township.  There are vast and crushing problems in the world today.  The only way out of this mess is to massively increase the rate of innovation in society.  Like off-shore drilling – vast wealth in the form of social capital, creative capital, and intellectual capital lays hidden beneath thousands of layers of philosophical limestone.  Social Media and the first amendment = drill baby, drill.

The only thing separating us from a debt economy and an innovation economy is social agreement. The philosophical chasm holding us back is about to be broken by The Ingenesist Project: In the current paradigm, money is backed by future productivity allocated to pay off today’s debt.  In the social media paradigm; money will be backed by future productivity created by today’s innovation.  At the end of the day money still represents productivity.  The conquest of a continent has far more to do with the acceptance of the currency than the actual pillaging.  Hey, why not buy groceries with it?

Social Enterprise; Innovation Clusters

Innovation clusters are all the rage in regional economic development circles.  Actually, they are “industrial clusters” because several companies in similar industries collocate in the same geographical area.  The industrial cluster then attracts supporting industry and often causes the migration of educated and motivated people to the prospect of jobs.  I suspect the ‘innovation’ moniker comes from the notion that newer industries locate near centers of venture capital, like planets forming from the dust of the cosmos.

There are, however, a few drawbacks to industry clusters; they are vulnerable to stagnation, silos, and external shocks.  As companies become organized and technologies mature, patents and trade secrets take hold.  As they ‘go public’, SEC regulation effectively places a gag order on everyone and sharing slows while stagnation sets in. Soon after, dozens of nimble companies consolidate into a single giant to achieve economies of scale.  Finally, silos form under the weight of multiple layers of management.  Then, something somewhere happens to shock the cluster; the end of the cold war leveled the So Cal aerospace cluster. 9/11 busted the Seattle Aerospace cluster.  The dot.com bomb stunted Seattle, Silicon Valley, and Route 128.  Hurricanes hit the petroleum cluster, stem cell and genetic engineering legislation stalled biotechnology, and corruption continues to shock financial institutions.   At the end of the cycle, companies divest, people defect and a new planet starts to form someplace else.

While occasional cleansing, in a Schumpeterian sense, is good for industries, the extreme volatility takes a horrendous toll on that invisible turbine of the economic engine – social fabric.  Families, friendships, professional networks are strained or collapse and those who dedicate their life to a career path – the pure innovator themselves – can be left marginalized by obsolescence.

The Calculus of Innovation Economics does not oppose industrial clusters; however, it does favor something called “technology clusters” in a business structure called the “tangential innovation” market.  For example; composite materials technology is very useful in many applications like aircraft, medical devices, transportation, recreation, and even musical instruments.   The airplane company has no intention of building cellos and the automobile company has no intention of building snow boards.  As non-competing industries, they can readily share technology and people.  The system is naturally diversified and inoculated against stagnation, shocks and silos; if one industry encounters hardship, people and capacity can shift easily to another industry preserving knowledge and expanding social networking benefit while the damaged industry heals or dies off.  Corporations may not like this idea, but social networks should.

The science of Innovation Economics goes a step further by modeling the business structure of tangential innovation markets as an integrated financial system.  Suppose and Originator Company has a promising new composite technology idea but is unable to meet the ROI requirements of their stockholders. Today, such innovation would be shelved.  In an innovation economy, tangential markets are factored into the business case.  The Percentile Search Engine can determine what other industries would be most worthy borrowers of your technology, if developed.  The Innovation Bank can estimate the return on investment that can be expected through the tangential market as if it were another customer.  The additional revenue projection would allow the originator to meet the ROI requirement prior to committing development funds.  Intellectual Property can be managed with contracts enforced through social network vetting.  The originator can hold an option to see further development conducted by tangential users effectively multiplying their R&D reach and further adding to the expected return.

Then something magical will happen. At some point, the value of the tangential innovation market would exceed the value of the origination market.  The originator will begin to specialize in pure innovation as a primary product and airplane applications as the secondary product.  As all industries in the technology cluster begin sharing technology among each other, R&D costs and risks are effectively spread across industries. As risk is diversified away, the cost of venture capital approaches single digit rates.

Then, another magical thing will happen. As the mixing of people and ideas accelerates, the definition of corporate boundaries will become more fluid.  Ownership will exist in the form of contracts among entrepreneurs now defined by social networks, options, and derivatives in a diverse innovation enterprise.

The knowledge inventory will house the assets rather than office cubicles.  The ‘secret sauce’ of knowledge asset allocation becomes more tangible, safer, flexible, and liquid than any patent could ever be.  Innovation will always be proportional to the rate of change of knowledge that the more diverse assets yields. The Percentile Search Engine will match surplus “secret sauce” to deficits of “secret sauce” much better than multiple layers of management in the past. The Innovation Bank will account for all transactions, obligations, and participation and distribute dividends (rather than hourly wages) to the owners of knowledge assets.  The system will regulate itself through social vetting rather than supporting a cumbersome HR department.

New ideas will get developed in the technology cluster where they would never have been able to meet ROI in the industrial cluster.  The innovation economy induces a multiplier effect on innovation by reducing risk, eliminating barriers to sharing ideas, and lowering the cost of capital.

While the boom bust cycle of Industrial Clusters has brought us a great distance in economic development, technology clusters in an Innovation Economy supported by social networks may turn out to be vastly more efficient at economic growth without the vulnerabilities of industry clusters.

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