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Asimov's Foundation The other weekend I reread Asimov's Foundation trilogy, one of the brilliant books that might have influenced me to work within the area of foresight. In these times it might be appropriate to use one of the major SF novels of all times in order to reframe the situation. I quote here from the first chapter when the scene is set and the famous Dr Seldon is questioned about his plans and has just mentioned the coming fall of the Empire:

Q. (theatrically) Do you realize, Dr Seldon, that you are speaking of an Empire that has stood for for twelve thousand years, through all the vicissitudes of the generations, and which has behind it the good wishes and love of a quadrillion human beings?

A. I am aware of the present status and the past history of the Empire. Without disrespect, I must claim a far better knowledge of it than any in this room.

Q. And you predict its ruin?

A. It is a prediction which is made by mathematics. I pass no moral judgements. Personally, I regret the prospect. Even if the Empire were admitted to be a bad thing (an admission I do not make), the state of anarchy which would follow its fall would be worse. It is that state of anarchy which my project is pledged to fight. The fall of Empire, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. It is dictated by a rising bureaucracy, a receding initiative, a freezing of caste, a damming of curiosity – a hundred other factors. It has been going on, as I have said, for centuries, and it is too majestic and a movement to stop.

Q. It it not obvious to anyone that the Empire is as strong as it ever was?

A. The appearance of strength is all about you. It would seem to last for ever. However, Mr Advocate, the rotten tree-trunk, until the very moment when the storm-blast breaks it in two, has all the appearance of might that it ever had. The storm-blast whistles through the branches of the Empire even now. Listen with the ears of psychohistory, and you will hear the creaking.

Q. (uncertainly) We are not here, Dr Seldon, to lis–––

A. (firmly) The Empire will vanish and all its good with it. Its accumulated knowledge will decay and the order it has imposed will vanish. Interstellar wars will be endless; interstellar trade will decay; population will decline; worlds will lose touch with the main body of the Galaxy – and so matters will remain.

Q. (a small voice in the middle of a vast silence) For ever?

A. Psychohistory, which can predict the fall, can make statements concerning the succeeding dark ages. The Empire, gentlemen, as has just been said, has stood twelve thousand years. A Second Empire will rise, but between it and our civilization will be one thousand generations of suffering humanity. We must fight that.

Q. (recovering somewhat) You contradict yourself. You said earlier that you could not prevent the destruction of Trantor; hence, presumably, the fall – the so-called fall of the empire.

A. I do not say now that we can prevent the fall. But it is not yet too late to shorten the interregnum which will follow. It is possible, gentlemen, to reduce the duration of anarchy to a single millenium, if my group is allowed to act now. We are at a delicate moment in history. The huge, onrushing mass of events must be deflected just a little – just a little – It cannot be much, but it may be enough to remove twenty-nine thousand years of misery from human history.

Q. How do you propose to do this?

A. By saving the knowledge of the race. The sum of human knowing is beyond any man; and thousand men. With the destruction of our social fabric, science will be broken into a million pieces. Individuals will know much of the exceedingly tiny facets of which there is to know. They will be helpless and useless by themselves. The bits of lore, meaningless, will not be passed on. They will be lost through the generations. But, if we now prepare a giant summary of all knowledge, it will never be lost. Coming generations will build on it, and will not have to rediscover it for themselves. One millenium will do the work of thirty thousand.

Here it is worth noting that the main inspiration too this novel, which started as a series of short stories by a 22 year old Asimov, published from 1942 and forward, came from Gibbon's famous work "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire". When I see it in this perspective I can't avoid thinking of the role of the monasteries which worked as knowledge capsules during the dark ages.

What does Dr Seldon say about what causes the fall of the Empire:

  • a rising bureaucracy
  • a receding initiative
  • a freezing of caste
  • a damming of curiosity
  • ...a hundred other factors

And the effects will be:

  • its accumulated knowledge will decay
  • the order it has imposed will vanish
  • interstellar wars will be endless
  • interstellar trade will decay
  • population will decline
  • worlds will lose touch with the main body of the Galaxy
  • ...and so matters will remain

Do these bullets sound familiar?

Our thinking about what we have to do is most likely not in the same line as Dr Seldon – mainly because we don't have the luxury of having developed the science of psychohistory – but realizing what stage we really are in, when it comes to societal and civilization development maturity cycle in combination with ecological and technological reality is crucial if we are going to meet the future in a way which don't turn out to be a horrifying apocalypse.

So go back and read the quote again and come back with comments about differences and similarities between this stage of our society and maybe the roman empire, or Asimov's Empire.

Since we can trace the birth of many of our defining concept of this society back to the end of the middle ages, why not try to mirror what is happening today in how the world looked like then? Here is X things that I have collected which sometimes seems to be rewinded: Organizing The decline of the nation state as the dominant organizing principle Hierarchical structures are challenged by the open spaces and market way of organizing things - innovation Knowledge and world view Increasingly relativistic view of knowledge - broadcasting model is challenged and is losing it's politically and socially defining qualities The decline of the idea of a better future - the idea of progress The text-based knowledge society is challenged by a world of verbally told stories and images Breakdown of the quantitative perspective and re-emergence of a qualitative world view and geographical perspective - death of distance, valuing the people and the experience of a specific place without so much romancing about how far away it is from home' Re-emergence of the risk society - the world out there is a dangerous place and we need to be protected Value creation Re-emergence of a non money value exchange systems - open source, make, prosumtion Break down of the immaterial ownership logic, where   

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To be able to say something about the future in turbulent and redefining times as we are now, you have to revisit history. Since we can trace the birth of many of our defining concept of this society back to the end of the middle ages, why not try to mirror what is happening today in what the world looked like then? Can we weave the threads back and forth in an intelligent way in order to create new knowledge??

Here are 9 things that I have collected, which to me seems to be rewinding our society (back to normal?) in one way or the other. Think of them as threads or aspects or images to be used as a foundation for (re?)framing a discussion about the future.

Organizing

1 - The decline of the nation state as the dominant organizing principle is occuring on many levels. Historians date the nation state dominance back to 1648, a point in time when it became clear that almost all other organizations claiming power needed to relate to the nation. Since the fertile ground of the nation states have been so effective in providing testing grounds as well as long term investment opportunities many organizations have now outgrown the national borders. Another aspect is that new communication technology supports forming of networks and communities regardless of national borders. A third aspect is that many of today's challenges are to big for any single nation state to manage - global collaborative efforts and e perspective beyond borders are necessary ways of approaching these.

2 - Hierarchical structures are challenged by the emergences of networks, open spaces and market model of organizing things. In a time when a stable environment allowed for big, long term investments in repeatable tasks, the hierarchical model for organizing things became the dominant one. Since some time individuals have gained organizational powers for themselves which have made problem solving and value creation following more direct connections between people, often completely bypassing the hierarchies. Resilience and adaptivity have stepped up to be more important than productivity and efficiency which is creating deep challenges to most traditional organizations. Since some time it have become evident that innovation simply doesn't happen in stable, hierarchical organizations. It rather happens in spaces and markets where skills, knowledge areas and people meet in new ways.

Knowledge and world view

3 - We are returning to a subjective and relativistic view of knowledge, which is more obviously socially constructed and culturally defined than we have admitted since the era of enlightenment. The driving forces behind this change lies in the increasing educational levels together with a revolution in communication technologies which have made the broadcasting model obsolete and therefore is losing it's politically and socially homogenizing powers. Together with that the knowledge explosion and the emergence of the modern man who is more critical and have a strong need to create and defend consistency in his own situation.

4 - The decline of the idea of progress and a better future. When we can't imagine a better future and everything is leveling or is pointing downwards we are returning to a world view based on what exists here and now and flocks around what we think is stable and fundamental truths in order to live our lives.

5 - The text-based knowledge society is challenged by a world of verbally told stories and images. Technology today, and increasingly in the future, provides us with tools and infrastructures that enable us to express ourselves and spread knowledge without learning to master reading or writing. Even if some of us already have basic literary skills it is often perceived to be so much more convenient (more natural?) to consume information in the form of images, video and audio form, that we seems to prefer this before books and articles. That these forms also allows multitasking, something increasingly more important in a more stressful society also adds to the equation.

6 - Qualitative and subjective aspects challenges quantitive and objective views of geography. If you look at medieval world maps, Mappa Mundi, they are usually geographically incorrect and rather mirror people's world views rather than what the world really looks like. Since the emergence of science and global business the quantitative qualities e g distance, terrain and relative location have since the exploration era of the early 1500:s become extremely dominant way of looking at the world. With the communication and transportation revolutions we got trains, TV, airplanes and now Internet which all have contributed to the death of distance, which rendered many of these geographical aspects less relevant. At least relatively. Today it is not as important where you produce things, where you live or go to vacation in a geographical sense, but rather from a qualitative perspective. We rather talk about if the oranges are tasting better if they are from Florida or if they are from Spain, how you experienced your trip to Bangkok or Mumbai and if the quality of the systems are better if they come from Silicon Valley than from Bangalore.

7 - Re-emergence of the risk society. After having lived in a relatively stable world where many of the earlier threats have been taken care of by the nation state we again regard the world out there as a dangerous place which we need to be protected from.

Value creation

8 - Re-emergence of value creating without changing money - since the middle ages and though the industrial revolution the society have increasingly been permeated with the concept of money. With dramatically lower transaction costs due to new communications technology, have suddenly been able to communicate, share ideas and information almost free. The result is that we have found that a long row of other values can compete with the pure monetary values. This have created a wide variety of value creating processes which almost not involve any money at all. Major examples are the popular open source/open content movements which today produce much more than just software, a vast array of global innovation, idea sharing and DIY communities, citizen journalism and the spontaneous emergence of catastrophic aid activities when people are in need.

9 - Immaterial ownership logic under siege. When knowledge and education increases, information and data can spread freely to virtually no cost, and almost everyone have the capacity to participate in the innovation and value creating processes the artificial construct of immaterial rights are becoming much less valid than before. Focus seems to gravitate back to more down-to-earth physical and service values which are expensive to produce and distribute.

Comments or ideas?

What about the future of the automotive industry? It doesn't look good from an American (or Swedish) horizon, but where is all this going and how are we going to transport ourselves tomorrow??

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Yesterday I held a speech at a local conference of entrepreneurship. As usual I talked about scenario planning and it's virtues of creating a better understanding of the business environment, especially when it comes to understanding the underlying driving forces shaping the environment as well as assessing the critical uncertainties of how these will play out.

I also met a former colleague from Volvo and we started to discuss the state of the automotive industry. Suddenly I found myself retelling some of the ideas about the future of the car industry and mobility I spoke about at Volvo almost 10 years ago. Thoughts I had a problem getting people to grasp then... but maybe something has happened since? These are a new remix version of what went on in our minds then, and what is occuring inside in my head these days.

Three futures of personal mobility

Today's car industry is since long stuck in a mature and until recently slowly, but now rapidly braking market. The key reason for this have been, and still is, the unwillingness/inability to reinvent the concept of the car to something else than a increasingly complex, functionality loaded, emotional, status-boosting and expensive entity.

A number of driving forces in the business environment coincide to create the business situation where this reinvention is absolutely necessary:

  • overall diminishing economic growth due the approaching maturity of the industrial markets slowly decrease the customers available money
  • the urbanization continues which
    - decrease the need for a car in daily life
    - increase the cost of land and thus the cost for owning/parking a car
    - increase the awareness of the air pollution as a problem
    - increase the traffic congestions
    - increase the number of people who have a different economic situation with an uneven income that is dependent on projects, cultural consumption and other idea driven short activities
  • increasing global awareness of the climate situation
  • increasing/uncertain cost of energy
  • people are experience, meaning and identity driven in a different way than before which makes them more discontinuous and unpredictable in their behavior and choices

A certain indicator of this development is the continuous increase in the use of bicycles and small personal motorized vehicles (e g mopeds) in modern cities. The situation have since 10+ years become more and more critical so the problem isn't new. What is starting to occur is that the automotive industry is running out of both buffered resources and there is still no signs of proactive ideas.

What we now can be almost certain of, judging from the period from the different crisis from 1972 until the present, is that the ideas and innovations with a potential to change the situation will not come from inside the automotive industry itself. But where will they come from?

Two major long term driving forces shaping the future entrepreneurial landscape seems to be:

Simpler functions are are on the rise, not increasingly complex services - In the area of Internet and Web 2.0 we seems to have found a really important insight, which is slowly finding its way to other areas. When decreasing the complexity in an offer, as well as the process paying for it, the potential for rapid success through a high market penetration seems much better. The important advantage is that you can still be rational and efficient on the inside without having to internalize the understanding of complex and continuously changing customer behavior. Reducing complexity in an offer means that there is a better chance of finding a more natural interface between customer logic and production logic. A really important achievement in an increasingly complex and transparent world. This means basically that instead of trying to increase the service content in order to increase the value of a service, many of the successful companies are actually doing the opposite and reducing the width of the service, but instead excel in providing a simplistic but high quality function with global reach.

The rise of low end and distributed innovation - Increasing abilities of innovation among the other 4 billion people is changing the focus of innovation from exclusive and advanced top end innovation, which describe the majority of development in the West, to inclusive low end innovation for the masses, which is what seems to emerge elsewhere. Companies are slowly starting to realize that in the low end of innovation lies both the future for the rest of the world, but also a pretty huge untapped market. One really interesting effect of this is that a lot of our advanced western innovations, which are adapted to our situation, will be re-innovated in other parts of the world and under completely different circumstances and cost pressure. And when people realize that great many of these new innovations solves basically the same problem as we have here, but to a fraction of the cost, we are going to import these in great quantities in about the same fashion we today import a lot of produced goods from the rest of the world.

We can talk about the last one in more general ways as the rise of mass-collaboration, mass-amateurization and mass-innovation as well, but for my purpose here this description level suits me.

Another development that could be mentioned here is the Open Source/Open Content/Open X development, but as I see it is just a way of organizing innovation which of course will have a huge impact on how the different innovations will be developed, but will make less of an impact on how the future of personal mobility will develop.

If we consider these driving forces as important, but yet uncertain in how the might impact the automotive industry, how will they play out. What might happen??

Scenario 1 - The car (industry) is slowing down - to crash

The legal system is reinforcing the inertia in the western traditional industrial mindset when it comes to change how we transport ourselves. In the rest of the world a vast palette of new low cost transport technologies are seeing the dawn of light. Many of them builds on the bicycle and different kinds of individual vehicles propelled by solar powered electricity. We in the west shows again that we are simply unable to adopt innovations coming from outside of our own ranks.

Due to no alternative working transportation solutions, people in the western cities are being forced to increasingly use their bicycles and public transportation systems. One reason is that many of them will not even own a car. This development will reveal a number of problems with our current city planning when it comes to both managing bicycles as well as public transportation.

The automotive industry will continue it's slide downward and will basically crash. Maybe some of the leftovers will be reconfigured to smaller companies selling their increasingly expensive cars in the rural and niche markets that will remain.

Scenario 2 - The low end reinvention of the car - "The car is dead! Long live the car!!"

In this scenario the car is reinvented through the innovation powers that rise among the other 4 billion. Instead of an expensive car that is intelligent and safe, the new car is small and comes in many (but smaller) varieties. Some of them will more resemble a concealed moped with place for one person, while others will have room for both a family and a few bags. The main point is that these vehicles are both light, simple and cheap to buy and drive. They will most likely also be very rugged to survive in a crowded city as well as adapted to small parking areas by being foldable in different ways.

The automotive industry at last realize that if the want to survive in the market of mobility, the will have to enter the new emerging market by buying moped manufacturers and invest in different innovation models and market in the developing world. It means that they will radically widen their view of what a vehicle is and by using what is left of their financial muscle they will have maybe have enough resources to invest in the development of these new cars. It will be bad, but they will at least have a plan and an industry to compete in!

Scenario 3 - Personal mobility is reinvented - mobility as function

In this world the concept of mobility is changed from being based on vehicles, on to other ways of moving people and goods. By taking the perspective of how functions (rather than products or services) can solve the problem of urban and trans-urban mobility in more efficient ways, the breakthrough comes from a completely other direction. Instead a vast numbers of new public transportation innovations see the light of day. Old science fiction ideas like moving sidewalks and different kinds of light and continuous train-like systems are being experimented with in different places.

Suddenly people understand that one of the major competitors to today's car manufacturers are companies like Otis, who have the advantage that they understand how to transport people both horizontally and vertically. By getting rid of the mental connection between mobility and owning/driving a vehicle and regard mobility as a function new possibilities of transportation is opened up.

Traditional car manufacturers realize that they have to engage in the development of transportation systems rather than vehicles. Cars will not disappear but will have a smaller market share and will be thought of as an urban complement to the integrated city system.

Kevin Kelly say something like this in the speech:

"The Internet's development is really amazing, but strangely enough, we are not amazed?"

Do we really understand what is going on?

The last time I wrote about Kevin Kelly in this forum was when he had been writing an interesting article in Wired about the future of Internet in 2005, 10 years after the year 1995 when Netscape went public – a pivotal year in computing and as I am arguing in human organization. When he spoke at TED last year he actually talked about the same subject but now called "Predicting the next 5,000 days of the web". Now it is a far better story, but it is essentially the same idea.

I encourage you to see this, but as fascinated you may be think of this:

Technology change is, if it is diffused to a certain level, an unstoppable transformational force. The relation between the different stages is of course very complex and usually nonlinearly directed in both ways. It is usually very difficult to predict what specific effects these transformation will have, but once the process have started, some effects are inevitable. This is especially true with technologies which change the way which individuals communicate, because it changes some of the fundamental capacities we have as humans, the ability to communicate, view ourselves and organize ourselves. The way we communicate basically constitutes what it is to be human. It follows a simple and elementary line of thought:

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The problem why we don't see these changes immediately is that it takes some time to diffuse a technology or a set of technologies into our behavior so that it transforms e g our institutions and other structures. But that doesn't mean it is not happening.

A way to try to understand the different stages in which technologically induced change happens is to see the sequence of cause and effect over time:

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When looking at Google and eBay I use to say that what we used to call Internet in the 1990:s (that is Web 1.0) is now changing the world at an economical level. The next step for that technology is soon the political/regulatory level. And then we have Web 2.0 and social computing as a new level of technology, not even talking about the Internet of Things when we connect billions of artifacts over the globe and let them talk between themselves.

Kelly naturally and wisely stops short of the post-technical changes in his speech, because it is enough to be flabbergasted about the Internet development in it's own terms – in technical terms by which we are used to talk about machines like computers. Enjoy!

This is my first post about the Lift Conference (LIFT08) in Geneva last week. It was really an amazing conference, maybe the best conference I have ever attended. Thanks to everyone who participated in the organization of it!

At the first workshop day of LIFT08 I attended a workshop arranged by Dave Brown about how teenagers/Generation-Y use digital technology. The center of the discussion was a group of four not-that-ordinary 17 year olds. They had all international backgrounds with wealthy parents who moved around a lot. On top of that all of them belonged to the activist group in their class and was well-spoken, well mannered, thoughtful and energetic. I really enjoyed listen to their thoughts on how they used technology in their daily lives. Well arranged Dave!!DSC_0005.JPG

Here is my notes from that session:

Facebook and social networking

Facebook was the social networking tool of choice, and they seemed to use it a lot. The number of Facebook friends were in the range of 4-500 and they felt like their online friends wasn't a different group than their real world friends, but rather an Internet-representation of their real friends. There was a status in having many friends though.

Even teachers in school used Facebook so some of school related conversations also took place there.

A huge chunk of social e-mail went through Facebook, but since it lacked some features like attachments, mail was also used in parallell.

Facebook was regarded as valuable because it made it possible to keep in touch with friends in other geographic locations or in other stages of life, e g when someone leaves for university. An interesting note was when retaining contact with older friends at University the girls seemed to regard Facebook as a peep-hole into another more mature and exciting world.

Their explanation about why it is hard to avoid using Facebook is that the daily conversations among teens which often have references into material on Facebook like - "Have you seen the pictures from the party yesterday? No? They are on Facebook!"

Myspace wasn't in use anymore because it was considered to belong to the emo people i e a certain youth culture who listens to a certain kind of music and dress in a certain fashion.

MSN wasn't in much use anymore for anything else than sending music and files between friends.

Shopping, e-commerce and security

One of the girls explained how she suddenly started to take the problem of publishing possibly sensitive information on the Internet seriously. She then started to remove some information and pictures. It was not just about the risks of stalkers, but also about the risk that the information will come back and haunt her. We were told that some people have already had their applications to some universities been rejected because of images on Facebook. Another story was that other teens have come in trouble because he or she have been seen holding a beer in a picture on Facebook.

All of them were really hesitant to use credit cards on the Internet unless for some specific products like books and travels. Concert tickets were also discussed but the concern then was about when (and if) the tickets were going to arrive. Surprisingly enough one of the guys did actually use his credit card on online poker sites. E-bay was another example of a site being regarded as pretty insecure.

The discussion in the room about why they were so hesitant to use credit cards online was by a some attributed to their lack of experience and good track record using credit cards. Which in some cases not even were their own cards, but their parents.

When asked about if it was interesting to use the social network as an online shopping guide (possibly referring to Danah Boyd's post some weeks ago) the answer was no. Buying decisions wasn't anything somebody else had anything to do with. (my comments: maybe that kind of communication belongs to younger and more insecure buyers whose social relationships is directly related to what they wear and own)

Digital vs the "real world"

The group considered information online to be less valuable and trustworthy than information found elsewhere. In school they e g had made changes in WIkipedia and saw that they themselves could write almost anything and when it didn't disappear the interpreted it as the information there wasn't especially trustworthy.

On the other hand Wikipedia was regarded as the major saviour when it came to accelerating the home work process.

It was also interesting to hear that the teens regarded producing images digitally was in some sense less valuable than the "real" chemical process behind traditional photography. The same opinion seemed to apply to music and other art forms as well. (my comments: maybe this is part of the larger megatrend the focus is moving from the end result to the process of getting there?)

Blogging and micro-blogging

Blogging wasn't regarded as something valuable and they have never heard about Twitter. (my comments: Maybe some of the explanations to the heavy usage of social software and SMS, but almost not interest in blogging might have something to do with the differences the different communicative nature of the different medias. When you want to to communicate with someone you want to have a person-to-person communication. Trying to rationalize that by twittering to the cloud what is happening or having a one way communication with generic crowd e g publishing on a blog into cyberspace, seems to miss the point for the teens. Read this post in New York Times - If You Can’t Let Go, Twitter to understand the difference)

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File sharing and intellectual property rights

No specific answers here, due to the nature of the question. One signal we caught up was that music is starting increasingly to be shared using MSN, because of the legal discussion.

I asked them specifically about how the regarded property rights of images which e g shows up on Google searches on the Internet. The truth here was that even if they knew quite a lot about the IPR protection of movies and music, they had never thought of these images as being protected or the rights to use these images owned by anyone. One comment was: - " If they are protected why are they published on the Internet?"

Mobile phone use

This could maybe be an effect of living in very expensive mobile phone country like Switzerland, but their mobile phones were almost exclusively used for voice and SMS.

I hope these notes could be of value to anyone. If you are looking for more information about this seminar I wasn't alone and at least one other person also blogged about it:

Today Jamais Cascio wrote a post about The Big Picture where he paints a picture of the 6 main drivers behind the major development of the next 20 years. I am really looking forward to following posts in the issue.

  • Climate Chaos
  • Resource Collapse
  • Catalytic Innovation
  • Ubiquitous Transparency
  • New Models of Development
  • The Rise of the Post-Hegemonic World

He starts his last paragraph in his post with

As always, this is meant not as a prediction but as a provocation.

OK, I am a bit provoked!! 😉
It is really an interesting list which cover a lot of the important drivers. My purpose with this post is possibly to touch on to what I think is either a meta subject or possibly an even larger driver. At least I think it is a major uncertainty underpinning how we react to the consequences of these drivers, but also how we are able to organize to meet the coming challenges.

The rise of the modern man

I am talking about the rise of the Western modern man, as sociologists call the phenomenon, and specifically how the modern man is silently and by just ignoring it challenging the existing hierarchical structures everywhere. For this purpose I would characterize the modern man as

  • more pragmatic and critical in larger scale than ever before - most notably to experts, media, authorities and institutions
  • is being able to create a (socially constructed) personal worldview - truthiness rules
  • is to an increasing extent driven by the need for self esteem and creating a personal identity
  • has more input then ever which gives a broader and at the same time more shallow perspective of the world
  • is increasingly connected
  • is increasingly empowered by different means of technology - more and more of a prosumer

Eroding organizations

But what maybe is more important now and a consequence of all this, the modern man is starting, beginning with the younger generations, to throw off the inherited mental limitations and cultural patterns of hierarchical subordination. This is already having consequences to many organizations. The ideas behind almost all of our current organizations, including nation states built on democracies, relies on a too simple principle of subordination and division of labor.

If I am right and the emergence of the modern man have already been eroding the steering mechanisms within our society and companies there are a number of consequences. The most subversive aspect here is that you don't notice it in everyday operation, but how the more long term steering works. This means that when you are going about and do the operational stuff it works pretty well, and the only thing that we notice is the increase in Dilbertian sarcasm. But when you are trying to redirect the ship you realize that wheel isn't connected to the rudder anymore.

What are the uncertainties?

One conclusion of this is can be that, OK some structures are rotten and will die or at least radically change when things are getting serious. So what?

I think it is more serious than that because these defunct organizations

  • harbor most of the available resources in the world
  • are still relied upon by the other organizations to do something about the situation
  • are symbols for a defunct model for organizing e g maintaining dangerous knowledge in the times to come

To me this might really qualify as a black swan. I am not worried at all that we as the human race will change our way of organizing ourselves according to the new situation over time, but in the coming 20-30 years when facing the big challenges it could be really dangerous to rely on a non-working organizing principle. It will have a big difference for how we succeed if we collectively noticed this change and actually started to identify and actively destroy the bad structures in favor of building new ones which actually worked.

To increase the value of this blog I might copy the idea of catching what I find valueble and comment very briefly on it once in a while. Lets see how it goes.

Future of massmedia
 Wp-Content Nytchart
An interesting and though provoking post by Michael Arrington pointing back to what is happening with mass media's role.


In Davos last week the media seemed to heavily cover the media discussions there, and so was Don Tapscott. It is an interesting discussion about the [mass] media company's future, because things seems to be shaking pretty bad now. Especially when a panel consisting of among others Paul Saffo and Peter Schwartz predict the death of the print newspaper in 2014.

Rising food prices

More and more factors seems to do the same thing - boost the food price. Previous analysis of the food price development thinks it will rise and plateau on a new but higher level. I, on the contrary, think there is a food chance that we will see much more instability in food prices for exactly the same reasons that we have been having fluctuating oil prices for some years - the gap between supply and demand will shrink and create much more instability. And together with all other instability due to climate effects and other non-linear effects which are increasing in a more connected world it will be a real ride for some time come. At least until the system have found another equilibrium in 30 years or so... So hang on!

[To those of you who wan't to read some more about the rising food prices, there are very few recent articles available on the net, but here are a couple:

Digitalization of the analog world

Invisible to most people RFID technology is very soon starting to invade our world in big number and will have effects in many areas, even if these effects are hard to understand the ramifications of now.

Another technology for digitizing the analog world is the 2D "bar"-codes called QR Code, which have been very popular in Japan for quite some time. Now Google seems to have included them in one of the plans for world domination.

Others looking for trends and further

An article in Wall Street Journal about how technology will change the way we shop, learn and entertain ourselves.

Following up last year's success of drawing a beautiful trend-map based on the London tube map, Ross Dawson present a new map for 2008+ derived from Shanghai underground routes.

FringHog have collected links to five technology road maps - Metaverse Roadmap, DARPA Tech 2007, EURON Roboethics Roadmap, Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems and Microsoft’s Toward 2020 Science. Go and dig deeper!

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When I was at Volvo IT (my former employer until 2000) for a meeting today, it became sadly clear that Volvo IT have entered further down the path of radical ignorance. I've heard about their strange firewall filters before stopping people from visiting web pages containing the phrases "IP telephony", "sex" and ""games". Apparently the filters have broadened and now they seems to have added phrases like "social software" as well.

I couldn't resist asking if I could do a quick test for a number of web-sites I read or write. Here are 4 examples of sites that was blocked.

When trying to reach these sites you are met with:

BLOCKED / STOPPAD
Ã…tkomst stoppad
(English text below)
Ã…tkomst har stoppats till webbplatsen http://brintam.blogspot.com/. Den ör klassad som kategori Social Networking and Personal Sites.

Volvokoncernen ger åtkomst till ett urval av webbplatser genom sin internettjönst. Andra kategorier av webbplatser ör stoppade.

Behöver du åtkomst till den angivna webbplatsen för ditt arbete måste du begöra åtkomstmöjlighet till den genom att sönda ett e-brev till internetfilterse@volvo.com. Ange varför du behöver komma åt den.

Ytterligare information finns i:

Regler för internetanvöndning

Access blocked
(Svensk text ovan)
Access to web site http://brintam.blogspot.com/ is blocked. It is categorised as Social Networking and Personal Sites.
Volvo Group provides access to a subset of web sites through its Internet services. Other web site categories are blocked.

If you need access to the requested web site in this blocked category for a work related purpose, you must request it to be accessible by sending an e-mail to internetfilterse@volvo.com. Be sure to state why you need access to the web site.

You can find further information in:

Rules for internet use

So of course you might request access to a specific site when you believe you need to... I don't know how often they say yes or no, but to have to request access site by site in the information age is really strange!

Here you can read what Richard Gatarski wrote about restriction of web access in May 2007:

Here is my main point: Various measures to control access to IT is an alarming issue for the organizations who have not yet understood the consequences of their current security measures. These might stop outsiders getting access to internal systems, and keep insiders away from what might look as non-work-related stuff. But in the long run the result is an organization full of members who neither know what is going on, nor get the chance to develop knowledge and skills concerning media development and new social patterns

Isn't it ironic that Volvo IT employees can't read Richard's post containing these lines since they can't reach his site at all?

Maybe I should be happy that this blog (http://www.futuramb.se/blog) and it's sister blog (http://www.futuramb.se/scenariotankar - in Swedish) could be reached so that Volvo employees can read this post... Ooops! Now they probably can't since this page contains the phrase "social software".

Update 2008-02-15:

The filter seems to filter everything which is published on the sites blogspot.com and typepad.com. Another large blog that is blocked is http://sethgodin.typepad.com, one of the top 10 Technorati blogs.

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200801251129Yesterday I got a newsletter from Spira Rekrytering (newsletter), founded by a friend of mine. Interestingly enough it contained short piece of advice from Magnus Lindqvist, a consultant in business intelligence and trend spotting.

Förr i tiden, nör organisationer hade långa och tröga beslutsprocesser (vilket, tyvörr, fortfarande vissa har) så var scenarioanalysen verktyget man arbetade med för att förutspå framtiden. Man fixerade det som i sin natur stöndigt föröndras för att kunna könna sig sökrare i sitt beslutsfattande. Idag har de flesta företag insett att de måste byta ut långa, tröga processer och beslut för ett mer dynamiskt, snabbrörligt sött att arbeta. Vi fattar beslut snabbare så att vi snabbare kan få resultat (och snabbare inse varför vi misslyckades så vi kan justera). Då passar scenarioanalysen mycket dåligt och istöllet måste vi arbeta med trendspaning, d.v.s. att löpande och kontinuerligt följa skeenden i vår omvörld och samla på oss artiklar, citat och insikter.

For you English speaking crowd I have a translation attempt below:

In the old days, when organizations had long and sluggish decision process (which, unfortunately, some still have) scenario analysis was the tool of choice to predict the future. You fixated what was in continuous change to feel more safe in your decision making. Today most companies have realized that they have to replace their long and sluggish decision processes in favor of more dynamic and agile way of working. We take decisions quicker so that we can get a quicker result (and a quicker insight in why we failed so we can adjust the course). Then scenario planning fits very badly and we must instead word with trend spotting, i e continuously follow the development in our business environment and collect articles, quotes and insights.

Reading this it is easy to believe that

  • just because companies have decided to have shorter decision cycles, they succeed in that
  • all important decisions have short term implications
  • trend spotting is a replacement for scenario analysis (and other more long term tools)

I don't disagree at all with that many companies would benefit from shorter decision cycles and continuous trend spotting activities. The business landscape is today changing in such an unpredictable way that it is important that all parts of the organization are active in the business analysis process and to participate in the feedback and decision process.

First, all decisions does not just have short term implications! Think for instance on the decision to start a new business. Or deciding to invest in a new house or factory. These decisions still have to be managed the long and pretty sluggish way since they require participation of many people, capital and long term commitments.

OK, there are an increasing group of e g network knowledge companies that can avoid these kinds of decisions by just being fluid. Fair enough, but in countries like Sweden the companies that still is bringing home the bacon is not that kinds of companies at all. And probably not for some years to come.

But just because it is important with the short term perspective doesn't mean that the long term perspective is unimportant. I would argue rather the opposite, taking the long view in turbulent times is more important than ever! But maybe for somewhat different reasons than to make long term plans.

What is missed is the other roles scenario analysis have in the organizational intelligence process. Here are merely two of the, but I think these are pretty important.

  • trend spotting just provides scattered information chunks which doesn't have any sensible meaning to your organization if it isn't fitted into a larger context - scenario analysis provides that analytical tool, that larger context, by which you could interpret, analyze and prioritize your trend observations so they provide any real world meaning
  • when doing a scenario analysis, the participants are working together imagining a number of of synthesized possible futures, a process which part from the analytical values also have emotional values which today is recognized as vital to get both groups and individuals to actually change their perceptions, prioritations in order to increase their preparedness and value as trend spotters

In turbulent times it is the organizational ability to interpret and react in an intelligent and decisive way to changes that is the competitive edge, not just spot what is happening and react. I see that as the current most important role of scenario analysis.

So, Magnus I would suggest that you added some more of longer term pattern recognition in form of scenario planning as a analytical base for your trend spotting. Just a tip!

PS. I just remembered that I wrote something connected to this a short while ago and showed a sketch that maybe is valid here as well.

200712061247

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200801231520The Edge have this year an interesting question as it's Annual Edge question:

What have you changed your mind about? Why?

I happened to stumble upon Kevin Kelly's contribution on Technium, his blog. He changed his mind about the possibilities and powers of mass collaboration and uses Wikipedia as an example. I was a bit surprised about that he so late have changed his mind about that. To me that happened some years ago, but I on the other hand have been raised in the UNIX community where the Open Source model have been working for many years.

Peter Schwartz, the famous futurist tell us he in the shadow of the global climate situation have changed his mind about nuclear power. I'm a bit sceptical to that since it relies heavily on technology rather than the long term necessity of changing culture and behaviour, but it might be a step in the right direction. At least as long it doesn't sends the signal that it fixes the climate issue...

Here I take the chance to answer that question too...

What have I changed my mind about? And why??

I have changed my view about the relevance and value of taking the natural individual perspective in many questions. Is explanations based on one or a small group of individuals actions a reasonable base to explain occurrances and changes in e g societies or consumer groups?? I am not so certain anymore.

Being a firm individualist, living mostly in my brain, it is natural for me to to think that I am in control of my actions and that my thoughts and ideas really matter. I am apparently not alone in thinking this, because in this respect I am probably in good company with hoards of e g philosophers, scientists, thinkers and writers. Not to mention all others, i e probably most of the people on this earth.

In recent years research in many areas seems to step by step contradict this apparently fundamental base for our thinking.

Marketing specialists have together with psychologists and social psychologists the last decade repeatedly shown how we don't have an individual opinion about anything at all. Instead we are much more than we think influenced by externally induced unconscious cues from what we see, hear, smell, taste or feel. The result is that a cunning specialist can create an environment and by that to a high degree be able to predict our behavior. The reason that this isn't done more is mainly due to the high complexity in our environment and the impact of the hidden state of the individual brain.

The area of neurophysiology are exploding with results from research using fMRI which tells us more and more about which parts of the brain are active during our cognitive processes. The results seems to confirm that a lot of what is going on in the brain is more hardwired than we think. Yes, it is dependent on different structures and individual levels of certain substances which creates a certain range of individuality. But no, the existence of the self consciousness (the self) is now increasingly believed by neurologists to be something of an emergent phenomenon which might, just might, have had some evolutionary relevance.

In general this seems to reduce a great part of our behavior to hardwired processes. More specifically the discovery of the so called mirror neurons give us neurophysiological evidence for the ape instinct i e what marketing people and psychologists, social psychologists and sociologists can observe.

Psychologists, like e g Daniel Kahneman have even won a Noble prize for removing the archetype of the economic man. He have since many years shown us how often our thinking is flawed by built in quirks. Quirks that show that regardless of how creative and rational we can be in the classroom, these quirks makes us behave in a predictively irrational way in our daily life.

In the same period of time sociologists, economists and mathematicians have collaborated on theories around why and how herding works among humans. The basis for these theories comes from theoretical biologists who by mathematical modelling shows how a few simple mechanisms at the individual level emerges to a complex herding behavior among e g birds or ants. The conclusion is that extremely complex group behavior like that of the ant societies are not at all dependent in any individual intelligence. Rather the opposite. Seen from the emergent societal level it just a few simple parameters that counts.

In two bullet points:

  • Ok, we are not mechanical and deterministic robots in the sense that we behave predictably. The reason for this is NOT because we are rational and free individuals but because we we live in an extremely complex and situated environment where our complex mechanisms and filters interact with a complex environment. I e we are rather social copycats, who unconsciously always tries to fit in the social environment
  • Even if we have a bright analytical and theoretical brain (which we in some sense have) it doesn't seems to have that much of a real world impact since we apparently don't use it in our everyday life

How could we else understand that we (and Al Gore) have been talking about the global environmental crisis since the 1980:s and nobody did react? Even if the rational part of our brain told us what to do?

How could we else understand why it is so difficult to quit smoking or change lifestyle? Even if we are diagnosed with a lethal form of cancer, but could increase the time here on earth by just changing a bit of our behavior? (Read e g "Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life" (Alan Deutschman)

How could we else repeatedly choose the "wrong" leaders?

I have changed my mind regarding this and I think it is necessary that more people do. Because if we don't, we will continue to sit down and discuss the wrong issues and time after another make serious mistakes in the areas of public policies and management.

Just because we are individual physiological beings separated by air, we must not forget that when we are in a group we are first and foremost part of that larger group. Then it is the intelligence on group level that is the survival factor of that group and on a larger scale maybe the human race as such.

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