Posts about jobs

The importance of JOBS

The JOBS bill being signed by President Obama today is critical to the emergence and growth of the next generation of industries as ecosystems.

Those ecosystems are made up of three layers: Platforms (Google, Amazon, Salesforce, Facebook, Kickstarter, Federal Express, Foxconn), which make it possible for entrepreneurial ventures to be built at lower cost with less capital and reduced risk at greater speed. To provide the critical mass that large corporations used to provide — to, for example, sell advertising at scale or acquire distribution or acquire goods or services at volume — sometimes these ventures need to band together in networks (Glam, YouTube, Etsy, eBay). This is how I simplistically draw it in a whiteboard:

Our economy — equity markets, regulation, taxation — has been built to support The Firm: large companies that controlled the entire chain from design to manufacturing to marketing to distribution, gaining efficiency and control as they gained size. The new ecosystem still benefits large companies if they are platforms, as today much — perhaps most — of the value created via the net falls to new corporate behemoths: Google, Amazon, Facebook….

But it’s at the entrepreneurial layer that the real work is being done, the real efficiency is being found, and the real value is being built. But they need capital — not much, but they need it. And they need to be able to recognize the value they create. That’s what I hope Steve Case and others worked toward with the JOBS bill. Andrew Ross Sorkin is worries that the new law’s loosened regulation for some companies will mean that more will lose money. But Henry Blodget counters that it’s not the SEC’s job to save you if you’re stupid enough to invest in Groupon (told ya!). The lighter regulation certainly bears watching.

But the part of the bill that encourages me is the ability of small companies to raise small amounts from small investors. I see this as economically democratizing on both sides of the transaction: more small companies disrupting large firms and more real investors able to get in on the opportunities (and risks) of a platform-enabled entrepreneurial economy.

Such small-scale investment has already been possible in the U.K. — not just possible but encouraged through 30% tax break on investments. Recently I got email from a company set to benefit, Escape the City (soon to be renamed escape.co), which helps would-be refugees from London’s financial district build new and one hopes better lives outside it. Cofounder Mikey Howe kindly wrote to me because he’d read What Would Google Do? and said it helped him think in new ways. (Thank you, Mikey.)

Howe wrote on the occasion of the company sending a letter to its 57,000 members inviting them to pledge to invest in the venture. Within one hour, $6.6 million was pledged. I checked back with him three weeks later and 2,200 members had pledged $15 million (more than they will end up raising). What’s exciting is not just that a small company can more easily raise investment funds but that this small company knows its potential investors. They are members of the service already: a community of customers and investors. Imagine what that relationship could do to help a startup, when your users, your customers have a stake in your success. (I also enjoy the notion that their venture attempts to disrupt the financial district they left.)

Start Something You Love: Escape the City…1 year on from Escape the City on Vimeo.

Until the JOBS bill, about the closest thing we had in America was Kickstarter. My entrepreneurial journalism students are eager to try to use it to raise funds — perhaps a bit too eager, I caution them, for funding a single product or project does not a sustainable strategy make (any more than begging for grants from foundations). But properly used, Kickstarter reduces risk by performing the best possible market research (pre-orders) and allowing an entrepreneur to use her customers’ capital to start her venture while also turning customers into marketers. Kickstarter could not sell equity. Should it? I think that’s an entirely different proposition. In any case, now we can see Kickstarters of a new sort help more new companies. See also the U.K.’s Funding Circle, which loans capital to startups (and which just got an investment from New York’s Union Square Ventures).

The irony of the JOBS bill’s title (it stands for Jumpstart Our Business Startups) is that it may end up killing more jobs than it creates as it funds highly disruptive and highly efficient new ventures that will try to replace large and now inefficient companies in old vertical industries. (See my post, the jobless future.)

But if the disruption is inevitable — and I believe it is, across many industries from media to retail, banking to travel and even manufacturing — then the only sane response is to find the opportunity in the change. The JOBS act helps more people, entrepreneurs and investors, find more opportunity. That, more than bailouts, is the wise role for government to play in the shift from an industrial to a digital economy.

What Would Apple Do?

Here is a snippet from What Would Google Do?
about Apple as the grand exception to every rule I put forth there:

How does Apple do it? How does it get away with operating this way even as every other company and industry is forced to redefine itself? It’s just that good. Its vision is that strong and its products even better. I left Apple once, in the 1990s, before Steve Jobs returned to the company, when I suffered through a string of bad laptops. But when I’d had it with Dell, I returned to Apple and now everyone in my family has a Mac (plus one new Dell); we have three iPhones; we have lots of iPods; I lobbied successfully to make Macs the standard in the journalism school where I teach. I’m a believer, a glassy-eyed cultist. But I didn’t write this book about Apple because I believe it is the grand exception. Frank Sinatra was allowed to violate every rule about phrasing because he was Sinatra. Apple can violate the rules of business in the next millennium because it is Apple (and more important, because Jobs is Jobs).

So then Apple is the ultimate unGoogle. Right?

Not so fast. When I put that notion to Rishad Tobaccowala, he disagreed and said that Apple and Google, at their cores, are quite alike.

“They have a very good idea of what people want,” he said. Jobs’ “taste engine” makes sure of that. Both companies create platforms that others can build upon—whether they are start-ups making iPod cases and iPhone apps or entertainment companies finding new strategies and networks for distribution in iTunes.
Apple, like Google, also knows how to attract, retain, and energize talent. “Apple people believe they are even better than Google people,” he said. “They’re cooler.”

Apple’s products, like Google’s, are designed simply, but Tobaccowala said Apple does Google one better: “They define beauty as sex,” he said.

Apple understands the power of networks. Its successful products are all about connecting. Apple, like Google, keeps its focus unrelentingly on the user, the customer—us—and not on itself and its industry. And I’ll add that, of course, both companies make the best products. They are fanatical about quality.

But Tobaccowala said that what makes these two companies most alike is that—like any great brand—they answer one strong desire: “People want to be like God.” Google search grants omniscience and Google Earth, with its heavenly perch, gives us God’s worldview. Apple packages the world inside objects of Zen beauty. Both, Tobaccowala said, “give me Godlike power.” WWGD? indeed.

The jobless future

UPDATE: This is now the topic of my South by Southwest proposal. Please go vote for and comment on it here.

We’re not going to have a jobless recovery. We’re going to have a jobless future.

Holding out blind hope for the magical appearance of new jobs and the reappearance of growth in the economy is a fool’s faith. Politicians who think that merely chanting the incantation “jobs, jobs, jobs” will bring them and the economy back are fooling us if not themselves. When at least a tenth of Americans are out of work, for Wall Street to get momentarily giddy at the creation of 117k jobs is cognitive dissonance at its best. No one can make jobs out of thin air. Jobs will not come back. A few new jobs reappearing won’t fix anything.

Our new economy is shrinking because technology leads to efficiency over growth. That is the notion I want to explore now.

Pick an industry: newspapers, say. Untold thousands of jobs have been destroyed and they will not come back. Yes, new jobs will be created by entrepreneurs — that is precisely why I teach entrepreneurial journalism. But in the net, the news industry — make that the news ecosystem — will employ fewer people in companies. There will still be news but it will be far more efficient, thanks to the internet.

Take retail. Borders. Circuit City. Sharper Image. KB Toys. CompUSA. Dead. Every main street and every mall has empty stores that are not going to be filled. Buying things locally for immediate gratification will be a premium service because it is far more efficient — in terms of inventory cost, real estate, staffing — to consolidate and fulfill merchandise at a distance. Wal-Mart isn’t killing retailing. Amazon is. Transparent pricing online will reduce prices and profitability yet more. Retail will be more efficient.

The housing market has imploded and is not likely to reinflate for a long time to come. So the market for new homes will not recover and construction jobs will not come back.

I can and will keep going, but later. Technology and related trends, including globalization, lead to efficiency in companies and sectors. Transparent markets lead to lower prices. Digital abundance leads to both.

All this has profound implications on both business strategy and policy, but we’re not facing these issues as, instead, our leaders keep trying to resuscitate old markets and old ways. Bailing out banks only transferred debt from them to governments (read: citizens), leading to Europe’s mess. Bailing out GM gave life support to an industry that deserves disruption. Fighting over debt in Congress — and reducing the markets’ faith in the markets, leading to this week’s mess — isn’t the issue. The question is, what should government be doing — where it should be investing — to improve our lot in the future as the size of government with the taxes available will inevitably shrink with the economy.

Don’t fill potholes — or rather. don’t think that will fix the economy. Instead, we should be investing in the entrepreneurs who will create jobs — if fewer — and wealth — greater, thanks to platforms and efficiencies. Invest in education of our youth and our unemployed. Invest in efficiency — energy efficiency, for example.

As I say, these are ideas I want to explore now and I hope you’ll help me by sharing yours.

: MORE DISCUSSION: There is an amazing discussion going on not only in the comments here but also at Google+ here.

Paul Graham of Y Combinator led off another amazing debate at HackerNews here.

I crossposted to HuffingtonPost here.

Henry Blodget just crossposted it at Business Insider here.

Thanks to all this amazing discussion, I just substituted my South by Southwest talk from publicness to this topic. Thank you all for the inspiration and for pushing the ideas here.

This is the next topic I want to work on, as I said. So this discussion is invaluable to me as I explore these notions. Again, thank you.

: Here is the text I resubmitted to SXSW under the title, “Honey, we shrunk the economy.”

: See also Rob Paterson’s post on the end of the job and corporation as we knew them. And another thoughtful post from Ben Casnocha.

: Jason Calacanis riffs on the idea of creating a retraining program that would give people the opportunity to move to new jobs.

: Eric Reasons, who really kept me going on this topic when I first raised it on my blog a few years ago, answers the questions in my SXSW talk proposal.

Editor 2.0

Connect these dots to create the job description of the 21st century editor:

* The Guardian is hiring a tag editor — a keyword manager, they call it:

Guardian Unlimited requires a keyword manager to look after the labelling of our content online to ensure that it is consistent with the needs of the reader and the editorial values of the Guardian and Observer. The role requires attention to the demands both of a considerable content archive and of a fast-moving news operation, and involves work across media; from text to cartoons, video to podcasts. It would suit either a journalist with a particular interest in archiving, or someone with a background in information science who possesses a keen editorial sense.

And I hope the person understands the value of the metadata added by the audience. Sitting on his or her desk on the first day should be a copy of David Weinberger’s Everything’s Miscellaneous.

* The Times of London has hired a search editor.

The Times’ Search Editor is to explain to the editorial staff how the search structure of the Web functions, work on indexed pages and improve the rankings of their newspaper articles in Google, Yahoo! and other search engines.

The Times of New York has had About.com SEO god Marshall Simmonds making it more searchable and it has been paying off.

* See Jay Rosen’s coordinates for a news site and note the new job qualifications therein: organizing community effort, presenting data, aggregation. I’d add others to that, including the idea of curating.

* Listen to the talk at the Networked Journalism Summit at CUNY and you’ll hear a lot about journalists as managers and from me you’ll hear talk about journalists as entrepreneurs and innovators and I’ve been arguing that journalists must become curators and community organizers.

* See Michael Rosenblum coming to teach our students at CUNY his method for making compelling video stories without the trucks. Everybody can make TV now.

I say that’s all exciting: new frontiers, new things to learn and create.

Now try to connect these dots from the other side of the old/new divide:

* Alan Mutter posted earlier this month on the brain drain afflicting journalism; it’s a self-inflicted ailment:

But the young net natives, for the most part, rank too low in the organizations that employ them to be invited to the pivotal discussions determining the stratgeic initiatives that could help their employers sustain their franchises.

“In most organizations, the people with the most online experience have the least political capital,” said one mid-level online editor at a newspaper. “It seems like the pace of change inside media is slowing, tied up in politics and lack of expertise in managing technical projects – while the pace of change is continuing apace outside our windows.”

Members of the wired generation say the process, bureaucracy and caution common to most media companies steals spontaneity and edginess away from ideas that could be appealing to their peers. . . .

“I don’t understand or like the media,” said the online newspaper editor who’s planning his exit. “Blogging has shown me that I don’t really need the guys that own the presses anymore. I’ll probably stay in journalism, but I can’t wait to get out of the media.”

* I found this whiny, territorial, ass-covering, protecting-the-priesthood, preservation-instead-of-innovation faux report from the UK’s National Union of Journalists to be particularly disturbing as they complained about things that are not done their way in various unnamed journalistic institutions trying to go online:

- A chapel at a Newsquest title in north of England told the commission that “stories are going online unsubbed” directly from a newsdesk.
- In some publications, “there are no experienced journalists working on the websites and copy is handled by web technicians”.
- The ease of copying and pasting leads to journalists under time pressure to “simply lump text across without proper consideration of its quality or reliability”. . . .
- Single-journalist video reporting has clear drawbacks, the report says. “To have to seek out information and people to interview, then interview and photograph or film them, then have to write and voice the script, is an inefficient way of working and can never produce such good results as a team.”
The report stresses the need for proper video training. “Untrained or semi-trained writers or photographers have been turning in such poor video material and taking so long to do it that even the meanest employers appear to be taking notice,” the report says. Several publications reported having to ease up on enthusiasm for video as reality caught up with quality expectations. However the report also acknowledges that “in centres where video training has be thorough, and the journalists are given proper support, work of high quality is being done.”
- Members from a regional daily told the commission: “There is real concern over lack of policy/guidelines and lines of responsibility between papers and web … things would be better if there was a dedicated video unit subject to the web team so decisions about what to cover and how could be integrated into the day’s news plan”.
- “The practice of reporters taking photographs is becoming widespread, to the detriment of the quality of images.”

Oh, ferchrissakes. Bring back wooden type. How many of those kvetchers are going to be qualified to act as search or tagging editor … or survive on their own when they’re laid off?

I was ready to pull my hair out when I saw Mindy McAdams pointing to this post by a just-out-of-school journalists in a newsroom who — unlike the old days when young people had to spend decades working their way up to being heard — is included in planning for the future. This gave me hope.

I have to admit, I have sat in on more than one conversation where people discussed an idea that there is no way in hell would float with my peers. How do I know? Because like those peers, *I* am attached to my iPod, digital camera and cell phone on a 24/7 basis. (OK except in the shower or bed, but within reach of both should the need to text a friend or hear my favorite song strike me.) *I* am more comfortable going without food than the Internet, because I know skipping a meal won’t kill me, missing up-to-the-date information seems like it might. *I* barely remember a time before Google was a verb and IM was an acceptable form of conversation even with my parents. *I* have never subscribed to a print newspaper or paid for cable news, and yet *I* am never the last to know, because I have breaking news and Google alerts, RSS feeds, Twitter and Facebook newsfeed, among other things, keeping me in the loop both with what’s happening across the globe and also among my closest buds.

But here’s the thing: *I* was invited to those conversations. . . .

s the best use of my talents at this point as a reporter covering school assemblies and school board meetings with a few in-depth enterprise packages thrown in each week? Or am I squandering — or allowing to be squandered — the best years of my life, when I really should be able to experiment, take chances and occasionally even screw up, just because I have to pay my dues to get to the point where I can do those things?

No. 1 qualification for journalist today: accepting change.