Posts Tagged ‘workplace’

O’Reilly sheds light on “WTF Economy” of Uber, AirBnB

Media and conference mogul Tim O’Reilly has been shedding some fascinating light on the future of work and our economy, via a series of essays dubbed The WTF Economy on Medium, in preparation for a November conference billed as Next:Economy (What’s The Future of Work?).  That parenthetical clues you into the tamer version of the WTF double-entendre he’s playing with—one very much in keeping with resilient investing’s core principle of keeping a close eye on the full range of plausible futures.

So far, the richest piece in the series is the second, Networks and the Nature of the Firm; this is a powerful rejoinder to the growing roar that’s pushing back on rise of the peer-to-peer economy, citing concerns about worker rights, fluctuating incomes, and other pitfalls of the new online marketplaces.  O’Reilly doesn’t quite gloss over these issues, but he puts the the old models into a broader context that was new to me.  In particular, he stresses the ways that the new economy is but a variation on the old franchising model, but one that replaces lots of middlemen with nimble technological platforms:

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Local business “pollinators” are revolutionizing economic development

For years, economic development has focused on attracting existing businesses to build or move to your state or city.  A new book from Michael Shuman challenges the track record of multi-million-dollar tax incentives and points instead at the rapid spread of “business pollinators” that spark local business ecosystems to life, creating far more jobs without relying on public funds to do so.  In fact, the fight among several “suitors” for a new factory or a movie production generally doesn’t create any new jobs for the national economy; indeed, existing companies have shown a net loss of jobs in recent years, while new small businesses have been the primary source of new job creation.  We’ve long appreciated Shuman’s efforts to spotlight the powerful effects of what we call the Close to Home investment strategy, and this new book shows the way forward in exciting detail.  Click through for some key excerpts and more info.

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Helping graduates resist the sparkling lure of corporate jobs

George Monbiot’s garrulous graduation-season rant rang some Zone 2 and 3 bells for us (these are the realms of one’s career and lifelong learning).  The title and subtitle really say it all: “How a corporate cult captures and destroys our best graduates: Universities should defend students against lovebombing by banks and consultancy firms – before it ruins their lives.”  Wow!  We’ll readily admit to knowing a few corporate types living valuable and change-making lives, but his point is well worth bearing in mind; it can indeed be hard to prioritize investments in one’s Personal Assets (including your dreams for the world and desires for personal balance) when six-figure salaries are dangled about.  As Monbiot says, “I watched it happen to my peers. People who had spent the preceding years laying out exultant visions of a better world, of the grand creative projects they planned, of adventure and discovery, were suddenly sucked into the mouths of corporations dangling money like angler fish.”

A bit of good news, though: he reached out to the eight UK universities with the highest graduate salaries and found one (yes, just one) that does indeed encourage its graduates to think twice before taking the leap. 

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Peering into Pew’s crystal ball: robotics and work in the coming decades

We like to say that a resiliency mindset leaves us “ready for anything”—though that’s far easier said than done.  Among the most unfathomable yet clearly critical “known unknowns” barreling down the pike is the rapid maturation of robotics.  Just yesterday, the first self-driving tractor trailer truck was licensed for testing in highways in Nevada (don’t worry, there’s a driver; but he’s messing with a tablet, so maybe worry a little bit).

Last year, the Pew Research Center canvassed hundreds of tech professionals to get their thoughts on how robotics and AI (artificial intelligence) will change the economic and employment landscape.  As befitting a topic that’s so dynamic and unpredictable, their summary report touches on a range of possibilities that echo our diverse Future Forecasts, with the respondents very evenly split between those foreseeing a breakdown (mass unemployment, inequality, and social disruption) and others expressing a Driver’s faith in innovation and breakthroughs; there’s even a touch of relocalization  (ala the top row and left column of our RIM) tossed in, with the “hope that the coming changes will be an opportunity to reassess our society’s relationship to employment itself—by returning to a focus on small-scale or artisanal modes of production, or by giving people more time to spend on leisure, self-improvement, or time with loved ones.”

The one (web)page summary features short paragraphs from an array of thinkers, and the whole report could be a worthy Zone 3 task.  There’s something for everyone here; but along with the diversity comes this key conclusion:

Point of agreement: Technology is not destiny … we control the future we will inhabit

In the end, a number of these experts took pains to note that none of these potential outcomes—from the most utopian to most dystopian—are etched in stone. Although technological advancement often seems to take on a mind of its own, humans are in control of the political, social, and economic systems that will ultimately determine whether the coming wave of technological change has a positive or negative impact on jobs and employment.

Seth Finkelstein, a programmer, consultant and EFF Pioneer of the Electronic Frontier Award winner, responded, “A technological advance by itself can either be positive or negative for jobs, depending on the social structure as a whole….this is not a technological consequence; rather it’s a political choice.”

Jason Pontin, editor in chief and publisher of the MIT Technology Review, responded, “There’s no economic law that says the jobs eliminated by new technologies will inevitably be replaced by new jobs in new markets… All of this is manageable by states and economies: but it will require wrestling with ideologically fraught solutions, such as a guaranteed minimum income, and a broadening of our social sense of what is valuable work.”

Or, as Stow Boyd of GigaOM Research (RIP) put it, “The central question of 2025 will be: What are people for in a world that does not need their labor, and where only a minority are needed to guide the ‘bot-based economy?”

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Automated luxury communism?!?

In the scenario section of The Resilient Investor we talk briefly about the “Star Trek future,” where limitless energy, extraordinary but totally integrated tech, and breakthroughs of consciousness allow everyone to follow their highest calling and contribution. The Earth is without war or poverty (we need Klingons for dramatic conflict), racism and sexism are behind us, and benevolent scientists in concert with farmers, ranchers, and industry manage the climate. The dreamers who contemplate this possible future usually consider it hundreds of years in the future. Clearly we haven’t made much progress on transporters—or war, sexism, and racism, for that matter—but lately I’ve been thinking that the Star Trek future may be closer than we think.

An article in The Guardian provocatively titled “Fully Automated Luxury Communism” grabbed my attention recently. More like tickled my brain and scrunched my face into a “Say what?” Here’s the basic idea: robot tech and smart software is advancing rapidly and the time when we can dramatically reduce the need to work is soon upon us.  If so, let’s be sure this doesn’t benefit just a few; let’s share it with everyone. The article promises a near-future “where machines do the heavy lifting not for profit but for the people.” I also have to say that any article mentioning Star Trek, Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson, and A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander et al is going to grab me. Let’s unpack what FALC is all about.

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Adam Kahane: Transformative Scenario Planning

Book: Transformative Scenario Planning. As developed by Kahane and his consulting partners, transfomative scenario planning takes the well-established methodology of adaptive scenario planning—rigorously constructing a set of stories of alternative possible futures—and turns it on its head. It uses scenarios not only to understand and adapt to the future but also to challenge and change it; by offering ways for us to transform the systems of which we are part.

Videos: Transformative Scenario Planning
A half-hour video introduction to Kahane’s approach
A 12-minute version of his overview
An hour-long webinar on transformative scenario planning





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Natural Capitalism

Book: Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution
Co-authored by Paul Hawken and Amory and Hunter Lovins, the book advocates the triple bottom line of profitability, environmental awareness, and social responsibility as a way that businesses can achieve greater operational efficiency. The book is available in hard copy ,or in free downloadable chapters.

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Benefit Corporations and B Corps

Benefit Corporations are a new legal class of corporate structure, now available in over half the states in the US; Benefit Corporations are charged with not only serving the interests of their owners, but also creating a material positive impact on society and the environment. Learn more and find Benefit Corporations here.

An related initiative is the B Corp network, which while not a legal structure, is open to companies large and small in the US and overseas. To be certified as a B Corp, companies must meet higher standards of accountability, transparency, community service, and environmental sustainability. Learn more about the 1200+ B Corps.

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American Sustainable Business Council

The American Sustainable Business Council works to create a vision and policy framework for a sustainable, market-based economy. The ASBC engages in advocacy targeting policy makers, business leaders, and the public at large on issues including sustainable economics, financial markets, energy and environment, taxes, and worker ownership.  Membership includes businesses, organizations, and individuals. Visit website.

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