The Commercial Potential of Rebuilding the World

Consider this thought experiment:

Imagine you’re in an office in a city somewhere in the real world. You walk out into the street and look around. You see buildings and landscapes, going and coming, transportation from bikes to rail to trucks, people with bags, boxes and briefcases, and everywhere everything is flowing. You see shops and offices full of supplies, electronics, food and drink, clothing and fashion, hardware and software. And there are towers, poles, wires, pipes, tunnels, joints and bridges, signal lights, valves and switches, all connecting and coordinating the flow. And you open your senses and see radio and the shimmering patterns of information connecting and coordinating the coordination of…. everything.

Now consider this, the bulk of those objects, signals, people and packages were designed, engineered, manufactured and built to one economic end – increase resource consumption – make it and throw away, waste and do not return.

Now, let the world shift. Allow the visible and invisible, tangible and intangible to transform into something similar but new, emerging from a background in which everything is designed, engineered, manufactured and built toward a different economic end: increase knowledge use to enable continual re-use, re-sourcing, re-making and recycling of everything; use and remake, weave then reweave, in endless regeneration. Imagine the world rebuilt to use ever more knowledge to empower each cycle of production and reproduction with more intelligence, productivity and value, in endless self-renewal.

How big is this business opportunity of remaking the entire built world?

Which future world is pulling you – the world built to waste or the world built to regenerate forever? Where should your business focus – on working ever harder to use up the world, or on working ever smarter to inform every bit of space, matter, energy and time used in the built world to continually re-connect and renew all things?

The business of business now is about provisioning the world for continual self-renewal. Where is your place in this emerging opportunity space?

“The living world is not “out there” somewhere, but in your heart. What do we know about life? In the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life creates the conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no better motto for a future economy. We have tens of thousands of abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people without homes. We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets. We are the only species on the planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time than renew, restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you can’t print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.” – Paul Hawkens, 2009, University of Portland commencement http://www.up.edu/commencement/default.aspx?cid=9456

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A Synergetic Bucky Symphony – Humanity’s Final Exam

A Samples Mashup Using Some Words from Buckminster Fuller
David Armistead, 2011

[This is a mashup of Bucky samples edited to present his idea that we are now entering ‘humanity’s final exam.’ The text is drawn mainly from his early 1980s writings. I offer this as a whole greater than the sum of its parts, a synergetic Bucky symphony. - David]

We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims. But we are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully for much longer unless we see it as a whole and our fate as common. Humanity is moving ever deeper into a crisis without precedent brought about by evolution intent upon transforming humanity into an integrated harmonious whole, living sustainably at a higher standard of living than has ever been experienced.

Ninety-nine percent of humanity does not know that we have the option to make it on this planet. We do. We have the know-how to feed, clothe, and give every human on Earth a chance. We have the option for all humanity to make it successfully on this planet in this lifetime. An alternative to extinction does exist – by veering big business away from weaponry onto the accommodation of all humanity, a vastly larger and far more profitable enterprise for all.

Never before have the inequities and momentums of unthinking money-power been more glaringly evident. The great nations are simply the operating fronts of behind-the-scenes, vastly ambitious individuals who have become powerful because of their ability to remain invisible while operating behind the national scenery. To expose the 4.2 trillion dollar (c.1980) rip-off of the people by the largest corporations over the last hundred years will be a tall order of business.

But integrity is the essence of everything successful. Whether humanity is to continue and prosper on Spaceship Earth depends entirely on the integrity of the human individuals and not on the political and economic systems. If humanity does not opt for integrity we are through.

There’s a soon-to-occur critical moment when the responsibly inspired majority of humanity, faced with the complete discontinuity of the nationally contained techno-economic system, will accomplish a world-around reorientation of our planetary affairs. At this critical moment the majority will realize that to sustainingly support all humanity, we must employ all the resources all the time as a completely integrated system operating on its daily income of solar energy. This is already underway. Can it be accomplished before fear and ignorance preclude success?

Fortunately, things emerge in emergencies. So, don’t fight forces, use them. The social revolution can now realize full economic success for all, without toppling the economically successful minority, by instead elevating all humanity to a sustainable higher level of existing and interacting than any humans have heretofore experienced or dreamed.

This is humanity’s final exam, to be administered once, and it is pass/fail. Whether it is to be utopia or oblivion will be a touch-and-go race right up to the final moment, and each of us could make the difference. Only integrity is going to count. This has nothing to do with politics, nothing to do with economic systems. It has to do with the individual. Does the individual have the courage to really go along with the truth?

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The New Global Business Environment

In the last five years, in the social domain of life over 50% of the general public throughout the developed world have begun to use the internet as their preferred source for news and entertainment, and as their preferred support for the conduct of banking, shopping, and personal and business communications. They are also increasingly coming to use the internet to conduct many more basic business processes such as filing taxes and regulatory compliance forms, locating and initiating key business connections, and coordinating work teams. This has, almost overnight, created a new social business environment.

At the same time, in the material domain of life almost two billion people have joined the ranks of the rising global middle class as the developing economies of India and China have come fully on-line. This has placed every key material resource – energy, food, water, shelter, and the regenerative ecosystem itself – under rapidly increasing supply pressure.

And amplifying all these social and material pressures, the global finance system has tottered to the brink of chaos with both Europe and North America facing unprecedented and unresolved debt and employment issues, and with global food and energy prices doubling since just 2008.

All this has generated an entirely new global business environment, and an emerging new global economy, with new rules, new patterns of costs, new methods of work, new risks, new opportunities, and new horizons for growth, evolution and change.  And the trends that have created this new environment are all accelerating.

Tell us what you think is driving the emergence of this new business environment, how it affects competition and growth for our businesses and communities, and what actions we can take to adapt and thrive in it.

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Examining ‘United Breaks Guitars’ – Lessons Learned the Hard Way

by David Armistead

[Note – The ‘old economy’ is the world economy, now shrinking and transforming, that produced the global consumer society.  The ‘new economy’ is the world economy emerging now that is producing a global sustainable society. The old economy created wealth by resource consumption, leading to resource overuse and depletion. The new economy produces wealth by resource amplification – doing more with less by continually substituting knowledge for energy, material, labor, finance and time. This new strategy is leading to wealth creation that lives always lighter on the Earth.]

Continuing our ride on the Clue Train down the rail to the global sustainable society…

Last week major media finally broke a story, following lively blogspace coverage, about Dave Carroll’s fun youtube song release, “United Breaks Guitars.” (Song: http://bit.ly/z2GU5; full story: http://bit.ly/mch2A)

The short version of the story is that Dave Carroll, another one of those great Canadian singer songwriters (in Austin, we love singer songwriters) wrote and produced a YouTube music video for $150 that told the tale of how United Airlines broke his guitar in luggage handling as he flew out of Chicago to a gig, and how a 9 month saga ensued in which he sought compensation, ending with United just saying ‘no.’ At the end, Dave told the United rep handling his claim that he intended to make a music video telling the whole sad tale if they refused to take responsibility for the damage. They declined. He made the video. And he posted it to youtube.

As of this morning (07/21/09, 5:40am) the video has been viewed 3.5 million times in about ten weeks.

Unsurprisingly, various follow up news stories indicate United has had a major change in attitude around all this since the YouTube video went ballistic. And the incident has apparently also resulted in a lot of well-deserved attention for Dave and his music (which I like). There have apparently been offers by equipment makers to give Dave new stuff, and offers by other air carriers to give him free rides, etc.

BUT HERE IS THE BIG POINT –

After 9 months of engaging United’s ‘customer service’ process with no result, for a cost of $150 Dave Carroll, a lone voice, self-published to the open web a message that immediately cut completely through all of United’s many layered, inaccessible, murky, confusing, difficult, complex, well funded, ‘customer service’ process – and established direct connection for Dave to the tip top layer of real control over the whole airline, with United’s top executives and board tracking the relationship minute by minute. Dave got, and has retained, very senior, very top level attention at United – for $150.

Consider Dave Carroll’s own words on this point: “…it occurred to me that I had been fighting a losing battle all this time and that fighting over this at all was a waste of time. The system is designed to frustrate customers into giving up their claims, and United is very good at it. However I realized that as a songwriter I wasn’t without options. In my final reply… I told her that I would be writing three songs about United Airlines and my experience in the whole matter. I would then make videos for these songs and share them on YouTube…. My goal: to get one million hits in one year.” (http://bit.ly/mch2A)

In the old economy, which is opaque and favors finance capital over everything else, it paid to push the costs for damaging passengers’ luggage back onto the customer. This is a profit-enhancing strategy called ‘cost externalization.’ It’s an old economy strategy that only works in a world of top-down hierarchical relationships.  In the new network world, where everyone has equal access at almost no cost to the ears of everyone interested to listen, the ‘cost externalization’ strategy is gradually falling apart. And in this case it failed badly.

Perhaps because he is a communicator and artist, Dave Carroll understood what the United senior executives did not.  Transparency can be forced onto any organization now for almost nothing. And there was nothing United could do to hold the consequences of Dave Carroll’s music videos back.

United failed to keep pace with reality, and continued playing the old economy strategy of cost externalization wrapped in opacity and layers of hierarchy, even though the value of that approach has now turned into a nest of liabilities. Consequently, in a moment when airline revenues have declined 20%+ each month for the last six months, United executives, by failing to adapt to the changing reality, have cost their firm massive amounts of critical social capital, in the consumer market and the equity market, at exactly at the wrong competitive moment for such a mistake. So for the United the change is not coming.

Executives – listen up.  In a world in which 3.5 million views can be gained through YouTube by anyone in a few days at a cost of $150 – you must embrace some serious change.  Adapt now. Don’t be United. The lesson does not have to come the hard way.

In case the point is not getting across, let me remind you of the Virgin Air social media disaster that happened earlier this year. It could have been anybody. It happened to be the most social media hip of all airlines, but they still tried to play by the old economy rules. Virgin had established an external blog for air passenger, i.e. customer, comments. Eighteen Virgin employees, stymied by an old economy-style internal run around processes to ‘handle’ employee complaints and suggestions, jumped out to the open and public passenger blog site and posted comments about Virgin’s engine maintenance and rat infestations on planes. Virgin responded, in old economy fashion, by firing all eighteen.

A blogspace fire storm followed, with significant loss of opacity, increase of transparency, to Virgin’s internal affairs. Virgin capitulated and rehired the employees, with apologies, and opened up an internal employee blog for uncensored and protected communications from employees about internal conditions. Since then Virgin has been racing headlong into the new economy and the new strategies.

We are already deeply into a real sea change, a transformation of the way we organize and coordinate and relate. It affects all our social capital, all our stakeholder relationships. This sea change is technologically based and cost driven, and it is being profoundly accelerated by the emergence of the new social media technologies which are deeply socially enabling. Adoption of these transforming technologies is not optional. Your competitors are doing it right now, along with your customers and employees and investors and lenders and suppliers. And this sea change affects every level of every organization, every moment of the day.

Don’t be United.

Embrace the change and use it to help your organization. Get on with developing a comprehensive, integrated social media strategy for your whole organization now.

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Hack the Cognitive Surplus*

Consider the following:

  • There are now 306 million Americans
  • And according to Clay Shirky the average American now watches 151 hrs of TV per mo. Which is about 37 hrs per week or 5.5 hrs a day.

Now, consider what these numbers mean:

When 306 million people each watch 37 hrs of TV per week, we as a nation have spent 11.3 billion labor/hours per week on passive engagement with television programming of some kind. Shirky calls this the ‘cultural surplus.’

What it means is that as a nation we are so graced with real wealth, the wealth of functional communities and strong networks of relationships (social capital) from which we continually build and rebuild our related networks of commerce and finance, that we can afford, even in the grip of the worst recession since the Great Depression, to spend billions of waking hours per week sitting quietly in our homes passively watching TV.

Amazing.

Got the recession blues? Big clue to effective action here. Got a team with recession blues? Multiply it.

*This blog entry inspired by Clay Shirky (book – Here Comes Everybody), and his concept of ‘cognitive surplus.’

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The Internet, Social Media, and the New Economy – Part 1

The old economy is based on the assumption that affairs can be organized so that energy and most materials are available in relative abundance, and that human productivity is the main limiting factor.

But the new economy is grounded in the fact that this assumption is no longer valid. In the new economy energy and materials are, for a fact, expensive and hard to get.

So in the new economy performance improvements in human labor and in materials and energy are valued and sought, with the emphasis on continually getting more and more from less and less – especially with respect to energy and materials, because we have barely begun to realize the possible improvements in this area.

In fact, most new growth in the new economy will derive from activities that either discover and disseminate improvements in materials and energy performance, or from activities that use such discoveries to dramatically shrink the energy and material used to things done. For example, in architecture this trend is now called ‘dematerialization,’ and it is rapidly rising in significance as a concern for design.

This trend has, of course, actually been with us for all time. More and more with less and less has always been a good core strategy for making money. But now we recognize that the accepted facts that underlie and drive most business decisions include the realization that energy and materials resources are expensive and scarce.

What we see happening in this new environment is the progressive substitution of knowledge and human capital for energy and materials. This often shows up as effort to use know how and knowledge producing social networks to reduce costs, i.e. – to substitute knowledge and human capital for finance capital. And it works.

Indeed, the fundamental capital of the old economy was finance capital, with access to finance acting as the primary lever controling growth in the economy. But in the new economy the fundamental capital is human and knowledge capital, with access to information and communications resources, i.e. – to the converged digital media, and with participation in emerging new social networks platformed in the converged digital media, acting as the primary lever controling growth in the new economy.

And the focus of this new capital base is, of course, access to and use of the internet. It is migration of all processes of coordination, communication and control onto the internet, and participation in and use of the emerging new internet-based social media through the creation and operation of digital media based social networks. And I note here that social netorks of various forms have always been the primary engine for the production of both human and knowledge capital, with significant historical examples being the networks of conversation in the coffee houses of Old Amsterdam and London in the 15th and 16th centuries, or the networks of authors and subscribers to scientific and technical journals in the ’70s and ’80s, etc.

So exactly at the moment the investment banks and stock exchanges are failing all around us, as the old economy gives way, the new digital converged media are giving birth to incredible new leveraged means for generating human and knowledge capital, including: crowd sourced instant access to knowledge thru tools like Google and Wikipedia; twitter-based communities of shared interest that emerge, function and dissolve in hours, migration of all business operating processes into the computing cloud, and the accelerating migration of our interface with all this media onto iPhone-like devices that give us continual participation in a globally based engine of social network production.

One big point here is that the actual global economy is not failing or faltering. It is instead – transforming, shifting from the old finance capital base to the new social media base. And those clear headed enough to see the new way are going to prosper.

Another give point is this leaves us with entirely new questions, new lines of enquiry we desperately need to explore:

  • How are knowledge and human capital generated? How destroyed?
  • What are the implications for capital formation given all the converged media are pull, not push-based?
  • How can we mitigate the dislocations of the transformation from the old to the new economic base?

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