The General Is In

I like the job title suggested by the quote below: Maker of Contributions Others Can’t.

“Expert-generalists study widely in many different fields, understand deeper principles that connect those fields, and then apply the principles to their core specialty.” But, you may wonder: wouldn’t this force Musk to learn at a surface level only and never gain true mastery? Contrary to the jack-of-all-trades myth, “Learning across multiple fields provides an information advantage (and therefore an innovation advantage) because most people focus on just one field… Each new field we learn that is unfamiliar to others in our field gives us the ability to make combinations that they can’t.” Musk applies this multi-disciplinary approach in order to disrupt the automotive world and achieve otherworldly breakthroughs in rocketry.

Late last year, after years of an increasingly complicated description, I decided on a new response to the question “What do you do?” — which for many people can mean, “How do you earn that living, or wear that suit, or obviously not own a suit but drive that car?” There’s an examination of bone fides going on. The question can be completely innocent, as when the neice’s boyfriend at family Christmas says, “I work at [deleted for protection of neice’s boyfriend], it’s a big consulting company. Do you know what I am talking about?” “Oh, yes,” I responded. And he did as I would have, after a brief pause, and redirected the question, asking me, “What do you do?” Therefore, he can be part of the family, because if he’d launched into an explanation, well, it would have been a poor example of soft skills.

My answer to the “what do you do” quandary is that I am in the business of being me. If pressed for details, I add that I create new combinations across several different domains. The list of domains has been progressively complicated, so I usually stop there and ask what my interlocutor does with their time.

No comparison to Elon Musk intended, we are both citizens of the United States and the planet, equals before the law and not much else. However, I believe this expert-generalist skillset represents more than the path to business titancy, it’s the keystone of complete works of creativity, business and technical innovation at every scale. I know it has been the basis of my career, and remember with gratitude the first times people recognized, nurtured and leveraged my learning skills. It taught me more about more processes, systems and stories. Having started a writer I became a “portfolio careerist” in the mid-90s.

Now I am in the business of being me.

Expert-Generalism is the basis of future careers and lives, not to mention many current and fabled startups not-quite-Muskian, in deference to the fact that the era of the multi-founder is just starting. The smartest CEOs I’ve known are essentially generalists. Some are truly generalists while others began as deep domain experts and added business, strategic, economic and political skills. The smartest ones are all expert-generalists.

Expert-Generalists are also the backbone of great local service experiences, because they can tie together a thriving on-demand small business community with incredible personal presence, soft skills, and expertise. The edges of the network are about to come to life with digitally managed personal and professional services as small business and solo workers become integrated into the logistics and planning platforms that have been the sole domain of the enterprise for decades. New combinations of value will be breaking out everywhere, out of necessity as much as a taste for progress.

A few people with an idea can change an industry and be testing the concept on the cloud in a few days, targeting their local market or the world. It is not necessary to start at scale. Uber certainly didn’t. Local is where an idea can be proved, then grown. Local is also where the action will be as a result of the collapse of credibility of authority in media, marketing, government, Wall Street and much else, likely too much else.

We’ll find the anchor point in local experience, built of people augmented by software. The economics of local on-demand have not been worked out. Experiments are breaking out all over, though some have run afoul of the law because they are frankly radical. Even the collapse of American democracy is possible these days, but I pledge to work with my neighbors to see that we are all happy, enjoy a fair wage that ensures they and their children are well-fed and educated.

All of us will acknowledge that.

The New York Times‘ Thomas L. Friedman recently described a new class of jobs he dubbed “STEMpathy” work. These are people augmented by software, the network and mobile devices, as well as extensively networked homes and automobiles. This includes everyone who doesn’t feel secure in their jobs today. We feel this way because we know the changes coming include AI and robots. Friedman correctly points out that “heart” is at the core of all work experience. There will be robots. We do need to change our skills, though not to be beggared at the gates of globalism.

Eventually, the question of how ordinary people will earn livings to buy the products made by businesses will become the foremost question in society. I suspect that will involve an intense local focus. Cities and states are already responding to the 2016 election by focusing on their quality of life, local values, and, strangely, the people. Marketers are seeking the holy grail of one-to-one engagement with customers. As everything becomes more virtual, it is increasingly important to be personal. There’s a lot of money in human contact and connections.

We can have no idea when that will happen, especially given the growing authoritarian movement. When the break comes, there will be a Great Re-deal, which does not have to mean a mass redistribution of wealth. Instead, it could come in a general adjustment of the compensation for work, which will lead to fair returns for all the work that contributes to the creation of great wealth and small prosperity: A thriving economy.

At that time, there will be many more specialists than today, working in science, technology, mathematics, medicine, and management. There will be more expert-generalists managing them. There will be many more expert-generalist laborers, sellers, makers, doctors, dentists, plumbers, as well as delivery, installation, maintenance and support people, working and living in the same community as those specialists.

We’ll all be grateful that expert-generalism isn’t something only Elon Musk can do. I’m confident he’d agree.

Source: How Elon Musk Uses His Learning Superpowers To Master Information, Clean Technica  https://cleantechnica.com/2017/01/03/elon-musk-uses-learning-superpowers-master-information/

Tesla’s Autopilot: Beta Testing In Public, So Open the Data

At the end of June, after the first death in an accident involving the Tesla auto-pilot system, the company said in a press release: “This is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated. Among all vehicles in the US, there is a fatality every 94 million miles.” Sounds safe, sure, but data without context is generally misleading.

The company goes on to position the death as a rarity that confirms the overall safety of the Tesla auto-pilot:

Worldwide, there is a fatality approximately every 60 million miles. It is important to emphasize that the NHTSA action is simply a preliminary evaluation to determine whether the system worked according to expectations.

Tesla doesn’t provide sources for its U.S. driving fatality per miles driven, nor the lower global average of one fatality per 60 million miles. Safety data generated by the auto-pilot testing should be opened for customers to review before buying and using the system.

Consider:

1.39 trillion miles were driven during 2014 in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. At that rate, Tesla’s 130-million-miles-without-a-death figure suggests that if everyone drove on Tesla auto-pilot, 10,739.2 people would die annually in the U.S. On the face of it, certainly better than human drivers.

2014 saw a historic low in U.S. driving fatalities, 32,675 deaths, after progressively better results over many years: 10.8 deaths per 100,0000 people, according to the Center For Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics. Death rates were headed up almost 10 percent in 2015.

The Tesla auto-pilot seems to perform more safely than average people when measured in terms of fatalities. We don’t know if the system has blind spots that engineers are seeking to plug. We don’t know if it makes more or fewer small, non-fatal mistakes than a driver. If three people had died in the fatal Florida Tesla accident in June, Tesla’s average deaths per miles driven would be just average, only as safe as ordinary simple human drivers.

It’s also important to understand that the 130 million miles of auto-pilot driving Tesla points to is active beta testing with their customers lives in the balance. It’s not like we’re all test pilots in the Chuck Yeager vein, but the fact that the company is sending car owners out with an active auto-pilot system still in the testing stages should concern us.

If the company has broken securities law, which appears may be the case — at least an SEC investigation is said to be underway — its a conservative decision to assume the safety filings may not reflect the full risk the auto-pilot involves. Tesla should take action to increase transparency now.

This is a situation in which all auto-pilot data should be exposed for public inspection, so that customers don’t need to rely on Tesla’s assurances. A corps of data scientists would give consumers a better risk evaluation than a company seeking to lower its liability risk profile. Tesla could make an important contribution to co-development of products with informed customers by opening its beta-stage auto-pilot data to public scrutiny.

How big can the Local On-Demand Economy Become?

Over at BIA/Kelsey’s Local Media Watch Blog today…. LODE in 2015: Household service and travel market penetration currently at 3.9 percent.

I wanted to lay down a foundational number for the on-demand economy, one that reflects how the economy can grow if the rhetoric of on-demand plays out to allow workers to be paid well enough to exchange some paid household labor for household services.

Based on our analysis, the on-demand market today could be worth up to $465 billion (labor fees inclusive), based only on converting some unpaid labor to paid using on-demand marketplaces. But only $18.5 billion in revenue appears to be headed for on-demand company P&Ls this year, so current addressable market penetration is 3.9 percent. And the current addressable market is only about 16.5 percent of the total U.S. population.

Next up, we’ll start to incorporating competitive industries that may be cannibalized by on-demand. At that point, the clear opportunity for lower transaction and logistics costs for LODE companies will be ridiculously self-evident. We’re talking many new billion-dollar markets, some vertical, some horizontal and some purely geographic.

Join me at BIA/Kelsey NOW: Rise of the Local On-Demand Economy on June 12th in San Francisco! Save $100 off the already reasonably priced tickets with the discount code “MR100,”  for this one-day briefing and discussion on the Local On-Demand Economy.

Join me at NOW: The Rise of the On-Demand Economy

For the past several months, I’ve been working with BIA/Kelsey, a long-time local media analyst and banking firm, to quantify the Local On-Demand Economy. We’ll be holding a conference, NOW: The Rise of the Local On-Demand Economy, at the Mission Bay Conference Center in San Francisco on June 12th. If you use the discount code “MR100,” you will receive $100 off the ticket price (currently $495 and going up to $595 in mid-May).

This is a convergence of several technical and socioeconomic trends, including automation (keyed entry record-keeping is dead, along with many of the jobs that perform that function in the enterprise), sharing (the eschewing of “stuff” and emphasis on the value of time and experience, the build-out of the last logistical mile that brings enterprise metrics-driven efficiency to the small and medium-sized business, and the end of full-time work as a means of keeping skills in-house even when they are not immediately needed.

There are many issues to discuss and explore in the Local On-Demand Economy, from the potential commodification of labor, including in specialized fields, to the problems of supporting a thriving middle class that works essentially entrepreneurially, for themselves across many different organizations and customer communities. Join us on June 12th to get a bead on the Local On-Demand Economy. Use the discount code “MR100” to save $100.

What will make local marketing work for local business?

I’m working on a project with long-time local media research and banking firm, BIA/Kelsey, to create a new series of sponsored white papers that explore key issues in the local media market from an objective perspective, offering new options and approaches to profitable engagement in local markets.

Our first paper, Optimizing Local Marketing: SMB Marketing Needs Do-It-With-Me Models, which is sponsored by Vendasta, published today. We’re leading a discussion at LinkedIn, which I urge you to join. Do download the paper now and share  your thoughts on how to make local marketing work in the LI forum.

The paper examines the pressing need for consultative marketing services that blend easy-to-use digital presence management tools with hands-on marketing expertise for companies that are too large to continue to market on an ad hoc basis and too small to hire and retain full-time marketers while paying for expensive enterprise tools that are often overkill, and over-priced, relative to the SMB’s needs.”

Specifically, it’s the “troubled teens,” when a company is between 10 and 19 employees, that represent the greatest opportunity for local marketing services players to step into a startling gap in success. Even as smaller and larger firms continue to grow, albeit with very high failure rates among the smallest businesses, it is the teen companies that fail at a rate more than an order of magnitude greater than other businesses of any size.

When will the OED get the web?

I love the Oxford English Dictionary. When I bought my copy of the Compact Edition about 15 years ago for $299, I began poring over it using the magnifying glass provided for that purpose. Since then, I’ve watched for the online version to become a reasonable proposition. It hasn’t.

Today, one can buy a year’s individual online access to the OED for $295, four dollars cheaper than the print Compact Edition cost me a long, long time ago. In fact, the print Compact Edition has increased to $380 over that time. The online edition is still the same price as a print product 15 years or so ago.

Granted, the definitive source of information about the English language isn’t cheap. The OED’s authority is  partially a function of its ability to define the language. Why has the OED remained stratospherically expensive in digital form? It seems obvious that the company could go down market with the price and drive both more sales and, with existing customers like me who have never had the print copy fail us, get ongoing revenue for providing updates in real-time.

The cost of fulfilling a digital order — one order, not the infrastructure — for access to the OED is microscopic in comparison to the print version. The cost of Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite and everything else has fallen while the OED sits tight on a small institutional market with some dedicated wordies like me picking up print editions.

The OED should be $29.95 a year, not per month. They could get $99 a year easily. I’ll pay that price right now, just give me the opportunity.

The lack of a lower-priced product makes no sense, when the OED could literally wipe out the competition with a reasonably priced web service based on its brand. At minimum, please open an API for developers and allow others to innovate on search and presentation while focusing on its linguistic excellence. Let them sell the subscription as part of their app cost and take a share. Give me my words in more places — apps, platforms, contexts, such as embedded in other applications as an up-sell — and I’d consider $199 a year. The magic price is south of $100, I believe.

What got me started on this topic today? My copy of the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary app, the closest I can get to a digital OED for $29.99, asked me to rate it. My response was to look for a way to get the real OED, even if it cost me more. No one would reasonably pay the same price for the digital service as they did for a book they may replace once a decade or less often, if they ever replace a book.

Digital books are revenue streams. Tap into it, OED.

What’s that $19B about? WhatsApp at a glance.

Doc Searls provides an excellent summary of the implications for trends in marketing and consumer privacy related to FaceBook’s $19B acquisition of WhatsApp. Here’s my take on the deal terms:

We have to assume there is a lot of overlap between the FB and WhatsApp user base. And, regardless of what anecdotal information we have about how people pay for or use the service, the potential revenue from the WA user population remains purely speculative. So, what do we actually know?

FB values WA users based on their activity, which represents about one message per day per user at the highest level. They are slightly more engaged than FB users, with 70% daily usage rate vs. FB’s 63% of users active every day. They are paying $1 per message sent per user/day, or roughly $0.00273 per message sent over a year. That’s a manageable low cost of traffic acquisition, but because the payment is concentrated in time, the financial impact on FB’s business could be pronounced, though we must acknowledge there is downside risk to the deal, too.

CNN Money reports that FB sees revenue of approximately $1.72 per user globally. It’s much higher in the US and Canada, where revenue is about $4.85 per user/year. This means the combined company could make up to $0.72 per user in the first year, if they implement ads in WA. However, it is important to note that FB’s ARPU for the Rest of the World and Asia are sub-$1. If most WA users are in Asia and developing countries, which I’ve understood is the case, the deal loses money more often than not under current conditions.

I doubt people will pay for the WA service (it’s unproven now) and, if they were to pay $1 a year, the deal is only a break-even for those users who pay. If 10% pay, which is a typical “Freemium” conversion rate used in projection, there is not sufficient revenue to prevent WA from being mined as a source of user data and implied intentions. As WA is integrated into FB, notably to FB’s user surveillance regime, which is the core of the FB business, it will likely need to add ad or VRM revenue to make the deal worthwhile. And that puts the whole deal in jeopardy, since there is little to no switching cost for users.

My $0.02.