Posts about reboot

Reinvention, not rescue

I doubt it will get very far, but there’s another well-meaning but ultimately dangerous attempt to provide a government rescue for newspapers: a bill to enable papers to switch to not-for-profit, tax-free status from Sen. Benjamin Cardin. “A Cardin spokesman said the bill had yet to attract any co-sponsors, but had sparked plenty of interest within the media.” Yeah, I’ll bet. It’s doubtful that taxpayers will want to help bail out newspapers, too.

The obvious danger is government certifying what is and isn’t news and who does and doesn’t do it. Should my blog get to be a tax-free, not-for-profit enterprise? Who gets certified? Further, Cardin’s proposal also would forbid papers as charities from endorsing political candidates. That takes more voices out of the democracy. Not good.

But the real danger here is that these rescue attempts delay the inevitable. The sooner that papers reinvent themselves for the new age, the better. If this delays that inevitability, papers will only languish in the past and others will come and overtake them.

This is the problem, too, with the auto bailout and even the banking bailout. We are bailing out the past, not the future. We are forestalling the need to change. Change isn’t easy. It’s hard on people. It’s destructive. It will leave voids and vacuums. But it is inevitable. The smart thing to do today is to run to the change, seek it out, find the opportunities in it, deal with the hard problems it brings instead of avoiding them.

The Great Restructuring II: The next ism

I continue to muse on the great restructuring I wrote about recently: more than a crisis, a recession, or a depression, what we’re enduring is a millennial shift in the economy and society, the true start of the post-industrial age. What will it look like?

I got an email from a German reader of What Would Google Do?, Joachim Günster, suggesting that we are witnessing a shift from old systems – communism (fail), socialism (never realized), capitalism (now suffering fundamental challenges) – to something new. He said that’s what I chronicled in my book and so he called it Googleism (which sounds much more impressive and less grating auf Deutsch: Googleismus).

At the Brite conference – which I recounted in my last post – Umair Haque described an economy that is fueled by the ability of people to create, by the failure of models built on screwing people, and even by love (see also Clay Shirky on love). I said this sounded like a moral imperative: a new religion. Craig Bromberg called out that it sounded like dialectical materialism. I agree. It is a fundamental shift and that it is brought on, I’ve often said, by a shift in the control of the means of production and distribution (that does sound Marxist, eh?).

Now Bromberg blogs on the notion, saying that Haque’s idea of “constructive capitalism” bears close similarity to the “march of Marx’s dialectical materialism, the resolution of class conflict through various stages of history from feudalism to capitalism, socialism, and then finally to the ultimate of abundance, the big C (no, not Citibank, for Karl’s sake: Communism!).”

Right: the post scarcity economy, the economy of abundance. Religions couldn’t do it (no heaven on earth for us, not yet); socialism couldn’t do it (because, Günster argued in his email, our individual needs and desires simply are not shared); communism couldn’t do it (because, Günster said again, nobody, especially a dictator, is smart enough to plan three years ahead); capitalism isn’t doing it (because our abundance turned out to be a big lie, a balloon with a hole in it).

So will the internet get us to the promised land? Well, no. We still do have scarcities of food and energy. But our economy will soon not be built on them. It will be built, at least in part, on the abundance of knowledge. That is a fundamental, millennial, shift, a next phase perhaps in Herr Marx’s march.

Bromberg concluded:

But what most struck me in the days after Haque’s talk, was this notion that the raison d’etre of the new networked capitalism is Love: people’s love for information, for getting it right (or at least right enough), for connection. And that this newfound love of creativity for its own sake and not just Mammon is creating behavioral change in startups and perhaps even in the way we think businesses can and should be run. Et voila, Jeff Jarvis’s question: What Would Google Do (if it were running the hotels, restaurants, car companies, governments, utilities, shops, manufacturers, and even Apple.

So where Godard once proclaimed (some 45 years ago in Masculin/Feminin) of his generation that “We are the children of Marx and Coca Cola,” we now seem to think we are the children of Marx and Google. It doesn’t have quite the same poetry, and I’m not sure about all the squishy emotion (as Shirky calls it) here, but I am noticing it, and wondering if we’re heading towards another moment of massive cultural change conflating capitalism and eros. Anybody for a Godard film night? We can always download some torrents from that secret cinema site I’ve been hearing about.

* * *

“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, do we?” a smart leader in a challenged industry asked me under a hot sun at South by Southwest.

Yes, we do, I said. The change we’re seeing is that fundamental. Our response must be equally fundamental.

That is my problem with trying to replant old business models, line by line, in a new economy. There are a million examples from media (why can’t we charge still, damnit? why can’t we sell scarcity anymore, damnit? why can’t we control the product even though we no longer control the means of production?) to manufacturing (why not the disaggregated car?) to retail (post-stores) to religion (see this post) to education (see Union Square Venture’s Hacking Education Session) to government (you ain’t seen nothin’ yet).

That is my problem with not seeing the imperative for change. It may be instinctual to cower from it, but that accomplishes nothing. Instead, seek out change, run to it, see the opportunities in it, learn from it. I’m tempted to end here with the obvious bromide: Change is good. But that value judgment is entirely irrelevant. Change is inevitable and right now change is seismic. It’s millennial.

I am the opposite of the guy in a beard (well, a long one) and rags (worse than mine) holding up a sign (or a tweet) proclaiming: The end is near! Doom is upon us. Instead, I’m proclaiming: The beginning is near. Call me a bloomsayer. (Or don’t.)

Of course, your view of this dichotomy depends on your perspective. If you’re trying to protect a past, then yes, that end is very near. It’s here. Last stop on the Cluetrain Express. Everybody off. But if you’re trying to innovate and experiment and create and build the future, then your time is now. That’s why, in the ever-more-emotional debate over the future of news and other industries, my confederates and I (see again: Shirky) are accused of trying to tear down, to destroy, to dance on graves.

But we’re doing the exact opposite: We’re heralding new opportunities in a new world. Hallelujah, comrade.

* * *

In my own head, I keep fighting between the instinct to try to update the old or abandon it for the new. I keep thinking we can put the old wheels from the horse cart on the new truck. Except in this new economy, there are no wheels. Even the fucking metaphors don’t work anymore.

Pardon me for thinking out loud, but that’s what led me to my book. Like Bromberg and Haque and Shirky and new friend Günster – but not as smart – I keep mulling over the change and see and saying, it’s bigger than it appears in our rear-view mirror.

The Great Restructuring

It’s not a great depression, neither is it a great recession we’re going through now. At the Brite conference this week, Umair Haque called it a great “compression,” as an economy built on perceived value reconciles with actual value. This morning, The New York Times finally realized that what we’re experiencing is more than a financial crisis: “Job Losses Hint at Vast Remaking of Economy.” Well, yes, if hints were sledgehammers.

I try to argue in my book that what we’re living through is instead a great restructuring of the economy and society, starting with a fundamental change in our relationships – how we are linked and intertwined and how we act, nothing less than that.

The Times sees this play out in the loss of jobs that won’t return in their industries. That’s merely the symptom.

In key industries — manufacturing, financial services and retail — layoffs have accelerated so quickly in recent months as to suggest that many companies are abandoning whole areas of business.

“These jobs aren’t coming back,” said John E. Silvia, chief economist at Wachovia in Charlotte, N.C. “A lot of production either isn’t going to happen at all, or it’s going to happen somewhere other than the United States. There are going to be fewer stores, fewer factories, fewer financial services operations. Firms are making strategic decisions that they don’t want to be in their businesses.”

Yes, entire swaths and even sectors of the economy will disappear or will change so much they might as well disappear:

* America may well not be in the auto industry soon. “American car sales have dropped to an annual pace of nine million, from some 17 million in 2007. Even if sales increase considerably, that is likely to leave a lot of unneeded auto factories,” said The Times.

* Financial services will have to be completely remade (by government). “Much the same can be said for financial services, which gave up 44,000 jobs in February.” The Times said. “During the housing boom, banks hired tens of thousands of well-compensated traders, analysts and marketers to sell mortgage-backed securities and other investments. That industry is unlikely to return to its former shape.” Who knew that The Times was such a master of understatement?

* Newspapers will vanish. Magazines are in worse shape than I would have guessed and many will go. Books‘ channels of manufacturing, distribution, and sales will go through upheaval.

* Broadcast media will become meaningless, replaced by digital delivery.

* Advertising will be next to feel the earthquake avalanche, after media.

* Large-scale retail will shrink and consolidate and then be transformed by a search-and-buy economy. The Times: “The economy lost 39,500 retail jobs in February, and has eliminated more than 500,000 in the last year.”

* The blockbuster economy in entertainment will become harder to support as more attention and money shifts to the tail.

* Business travel – including the convention and conference business – will take a huge hit in the financial crisis and much of it won’t come back, replaced by more efficient communications.

* We can only hope that dirty and political energy industries will shrivel.

* Residential and commercial real estate will have to restructure around a new capital structure. Homes will get cheaper but so much of homeowners’ equity has been wiped out in real estate and stock investments that I’ll bet apartments will be what’s built when building returns. Commercial real estate had its own bubble and it will be hit with a double whammy as tenants shrink and disappear. Construction will, of course, decline.

* Health care was the one sector in this month’s employment report that showed growth. But we know that medicine, pharma, and insurance will undergo a forced restructuring.

* Computers are getting so small and cheap and open that that industry is under growing pressure. As every other device we have becomes smart and connected, I wonder whether the computer itself will begin to disappear.

* Universities are facing competition from each other and commercial newcomers online and have suffered huge blows to their endowments; they will have to change. We should be so lucky that elementary and secondary education will also face such pressure.

* Finally, consumer products of all sorts will have to change in the face of empowered customers and, in some cases, with competition from small competitors given the benefits of scale on platforms (see: eBay, Etsy, Amazon, et al). They will also face price pressure thanks to online comparison shopping and new retail structures.

* Government will grow but thanks to the empowered populace, it, too, will face fundamnetal change.

* * *

There are opportunities here, of course. There always is in change if you’re willing to see and seek it.

* This is the time when startups start. I agree with Reid Hoffman that founding new companies is our way out of this mess. Given the profound nature of the restructuring, starting new businesses – not fixing old, doomed ones – is the only sensible path. “Consider a few start-ups from the past century.” he wrote: “Microsoft, MTV, CNN, FedEx, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Burger King. Each opened during a period of economic downturn. Today, these brands employ hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. We need to prepare for the next Burger King. By empowering individuals and small businesses, an innovation stimulus can help germinate stable industry players for the long term.” Fred Wilson would disagree with Reid, I think, about government helping to fund startups, but I think we can all agree that creating the right environment for investment could not be more critical.

* Creating platforms to serve small and independent businesses and networks to bring them the advantages of scale are key opportunities in the restructured economy. That is the real lesson of Google in WWGD?. There are three ways to succeed here: Create a platform; create a network; build on top of somebody else’s platform or network. This, I believe, is how large companies will be replaced.

* There are many opportunities to provide services to new, independent players – startups and newly self-employed individuals. At yesterday’s Hacking Education, Scott Heiferman and I tweeted back and forth about the opportunities to build a network of spaces for independent work (the inverse of Starbucks: good with space and services, OK with coffee). Add payroll, insurance, hosting, and all sorts of services.

* Education is a growth opportunity but not in its current institutions. As industries are killed and turned upside-down, present and former employees will need to be retrained in technology, in the skills of starting and running a business, in entirely new skills. In Hacking Education, some participants were building such platforms. I see huge disruption here.

* Of course, there are opportunities to remake the fallen industries. At Davos, in a session I ran, business guys reinvented the bank under radical transparency. In my book, I started to rethink the auto industry in the image of the computer industry: disaggregating the car so we can reaggregate it from many new suppliers. Many are working on new scenarios for news. I see huge opportunities in rethinking and remaking advertising from the ground up. Every one of the collapsing industries listed above will be replaced – in a different image, at a different scale – and that presents opportunities.

* * *

But all that still doesn’t reveal the extent to which our society is changing. At Brite, Haque addressed some of this as he talked about a “metacrisis” in our “zombieconomy” in which we have understated cost and overstated value. He talked about reconceiving thin vs. thick value creation; about Google as an example because it creates principles more than strategy; and about the new principles of a new economy, built around stewardship, trusteeship, guardianship, leadership, partnership.

I said from the audience that his prescription sounded like a moral imperative. Another member of the audience said it sounded like dialectical materialism (I had earlier joked in my talk at Brite that I vaguely sounded Marxist talking about how all the change I outlined in media came from no longer being bound by the means of production and distribution). Haque responded that though both our contentions might be true, he was declaring an economic imperative. He previewed that view sometime ago when he wrote what I came to call Haque’s Law: “As interaction explodes, the costs of evil are starting to outweigh the benefits.”

Now back to the start: We are linked in new ways. Because of that, it’s hard to build a business model anymore out of screwing people – since when you do, we the screwed can rise up and be heard and fight back and make evil too expensive. Our interconnectedness is also what made the complex derivatives – the toxic assets – that triggered the financial crisis possible – but that is all the more reason why we will demand transparency, our best antidote to evil. That will change how business is run in fundamental ways.

And so there is our Great Restructuring, Great Rethink, Great Reboot, call it what you will: The change in our society and how it is structured are both causing and necessitating change in the economy and its industries. The crisis is bigger than it appears in the rear-view mirror. It’s more than jobs lost and companies folding. It’s a new economy built on a new society that we are only just beginning to recognize if not understand. That is WWGD? – and its sequel.

: LATER: In typical eloquence, Yochai Benkler expresses the restructuring in his response to Paul Starr’s lament about newspapers and the future of democracy:

Like other information goods, the production model of news is shifting from an industrial model–be it the monopoly city paper, IBM in its monopoly heyday, or Microsoft, or Britannica–to a networked model that integrates a wider range of practices into the production system: market and nonmarket, large scale and small, for profit and nonprofit, organized and individual.

This will be the case, I argue in WWGD? and now here, not just for digital and information enterprises but for others. Education was built, it was pointed out often at Hacking Education, for an industrial age, to turn out factory workers. It was also built in an industrial model: every student off the assembly line the same. The future of education will be a magnificent mish-mash of – to quote Benkler – market and nonmarket, large scale and small, profit and nonprofit, organized and individual. Computers and their software are made this way. Cars may be. Banking, I think, will be a similar mix (nonprofit? yes, credit unions). The bottom line is the shift from an institutional economy to a network economy.

: LATER: This post seems to have caused Bruce Sterling a bad trip. Sorry about that.

: “The new normal will be a lot different from the old normal.”