The Rise of Anti-Capitalism

As for the capitalist system, it is likely to remain with us far into the future, albeit in a more streamlined role, primarily as an aggregator of network services and solutions, allowing it to thrive as a powerful niche player in the coming era. We are, however, entering a world partly beyond markets, where we are learning how to live together in an increasingly interdependent, collaborative, global commons.

This is a good and important summary of where I believe we’re heading. As costs for “stuff” approach zero, we’ll need new ways of understanding the role of business. It may well be that “nonprofit” is no longer reserved (at least mentally) for charitable organizations; imagine what it would be like if Facebook or Amazon operated officially as nonprofits?

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India’s Faster, Cheaper Mars Mission

Just days after the launch of India’s Mangalyaan satellite, NASA sent off its own Mars mission, five years in the making, named Maven. Its cost: $671 million. The budget of India’s Mars mission was just three-quarters of the $100 million that Hollywood spent on last year’s space-based hit, “Gravity.”

The engineers had to compress their efforts into 18 months (other countries’ space vehicles have taken six years or more to build). “Since the time was so short, for the first time in the history of such a project, we scheduled tasks by the hour — not days, not weeks.”

The modest budget did not allow for multiple iterations. So, instead of building many models (a qualification model, a flight model and a flight spare), as is the norm for American and European agencies, scientists built the final flight model right from the start. Expensive ground tests were also limited. “India’s ‘late beginner’ advantage was that it could learn from earlier mission failures.”

Huge.

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Two Stories: Juno vs. Microsoft

I won’t say that this is the reason I left Juno, but it does illustrate the reason I left Juno: it was the idea that no matter how hard you work, no matter how smart you are, no matter whether you are ‘in charge’ of something or not, you have no authority whatsoever for even the tiniest thing. None. Take your damn ideas, training, brains, and intelligence, all the things we’re paying you for, and shove it. And at Juno, there were plenty of managers, something like 1/4 of all the employees, and so they had plenty of times to stick their fingers into every single decision and make sure that they were in control. The contrast with Microsoft, where VP’s descended from Building 9 to make it clear that you have the authority to get things done, was stark.

These are great stories. The first is about how awesome it is to work at Microsoft and the second is about how bad it is to work at Juno – both from the perspective of a maker, not a manager. Ultimately both boil down to authority.

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Why Do Companies Exist?

Our economy is chock-a-block with businesses that exist to maximize efficiency at scale. Businesses presuming predictability in order to push out mass produced products supported by mass marketing programs…relying on command and control in a world that’s increasingly difficult to command or control…losing their leadership positions at an ever-faster rate because they continue to push in a world gone pull.

Yes, the death of command and control has been greatly exaggerated for years now. The early prognosticators, however, mistook the lead times required for deployment of the new digital infrastructure. They also missed how long it would take to develop the new social and business practices needed to harness the capabilities of our new infrastructure–capabilities that are only now becoming visible on the fertile edges of business and society.

Very important “Why?” article (via Bud). Heads been talking about corporate adaptivity since the ’70s, but digital technology makes it real.

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Positive Feedback

Positive feedback is a process in which the effects of a small disturbance on a system include an increase in the magnitude of the perturbation.

Worth remembering what feedback is for: to push for more or less of a given behavior or output.

Also worth remembering that positive feedback loops can cause terrible harm. They cause stampedes, fell bridges, and drive runs on banks. Negative feedback loops, by contrast, can provide stability in a system. This isn’t to say, “Negative Good, Positive Bad” but rather…be mindful of the role feedback plays in a system.

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The Shift Index

There is a growing mismatch between the old frameworks and practices that many companies use and the structures and capabilities required to be successful in a rapidly changing environment.

Companies are…bottlenecks to the efforts of all of us to harness more of the power of pull—the ability to get better faster as more and more people participate in pull platforms that help us to draw out people and resources when we need them and where we need them. By working together to reengineer our institutions, we have an opportunity to unleash more of our potential and tap into the increasing returns made possible by ever-expanding flows of knowledge.

We can choose to participate in flows of knowledge rather than hold tightly to static stocks of information whose value is rapidly diminishing. Certain institutions are already starting: by scaling edges; redesigning their work environments; cultivating worker passion; and bringing smaller, proven successes back to the core of their business.

All of this.

See what I’m talking about.

The Agency Problem

The agency problem is the problem of doing one-off work in a world in which software is becoming a service that needs constant attention. And that constant attention isn’t just the attention of community managers: it’s the attention of designers as well, who need to constantly refine and rework small changes in the interface based on the emergent behavior of the people using it.

Uh, yup.

See what I’m talking about.

Core Protocols

  1. I commit to engage when present.
  2. I will seek to perceive more than I seek to be perceived.
  3. I will use teams, especially when undertaking difficult tasks.
  4. I will speak always and only when I believe it will improve the general results/effort ratio.
  5. I will offer and accept only rational, results-oriented behavior and communication.
  6. I will disengage from less productive situations
  7. I will do now what must be done eventually and can effectively be done now.
  8. I will seek to move forward toward a particular goal, by biasing my behavior toward action.
  9. I will use the Core Protocols (or better) when applicable.
  10. I will offer and accept timely and proper use of the Protocol Check protocol without prejudice.
  11. I will neither harm—nor tolerate the harming of—anyone for his or her fidelity to these commitments.
  12. I will never do anything dumb on purpose.

A guy I met last week – Dan Mezick – introduced me to this thing called “Core Protocols“. It’s an open-source behavioral toolkit based on 14 rules (with expansion packs), and they’re another point on the line that roughly describes “rational/legal authority in business.” The aim of these rules is to enable effective team behavior, as best I understand it.

Most employees in large businesses give themselves over to a set of rules that govern their day-to-day corporate existence. Important to point out that I think most of us would agree that if you get the rules set up right, they can be helpful constructs.

The problem is not the presence rules, instead, it’s that most corporate rules are shitty rules, and they’re really hard to change over time.

McDonald’s & Walmart are Software

McDonald’s, for example, grew big by designing a system, the McDonald’s franchise, that could then be reproduced at will all over the face of the earth. A McDonald’s franchise is controlled by rules so precise that it is practically a piece of software. Write once, run everywhere. Ditto for Wal-Mart. Sam Walton got rich not by being a retailer, but by designing a new kind of store.

This is from an awesome essay by Paul Graham from 2004 called, “How to Make Wealth.” I go back to it a ton for inspiration.

But I’d forgotten about the reference comparing a business to software. Really smart, and yet more relevant today than it was a decade ago.

See what I’m talking about.

The Purpose of Gawker

Reading about the new Kinja yesterday, I noticed that they linked back to this article from 2012. Really good input for discussions on Purpose » Platform.

From the foundation ten years ago, Gawker and its sibling titles were intended to give readers a direct connection to writers — and through them a deeper understanding of events and the way the world works.

That brings us to technology — and the organization’s future. Blog publishing software — first adapted from publicly available platforms and then our own — has permitted much of the editorial innovation we have brought to online media. Spontaneous publishing to a mass audience and measurement of the performance of both articles and contributors: these are just the two of the most profound improvements in process underpinned by our technology effort in New York and Budapest.

But we are still at the beginning of our mission to bring real editorial and commercial conversation to a wider public. Even at Gawker there are interactions — between journalists, sources, protagonists and readers — that never make it to the page.

See what I’m talking about.