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/

The Rich Live Longer Everywhere. For the Poor, Geography Matters. – The New York Times

The challenge for the United States over the next two decades is the distribution of prosperity, including health improvements across all segments of society. Efficiency is the driver, but the product will be greater equality.

In some parts of the country, adults with the lowest incomes die on average as young as people in much poorer nations like Rwanda, and their life spans are getting shorter.

Source: The Rich Live Longer Everywhere. For the Poor, Geography Matters. – The New York Times

Improvisational Writing

I’ve been writing a bit every evening, using comments or postings on Facebook as a prompt. When something captures my attention, I start writing, trying to take an analytic view in the case below of riff on the 2016 Presidential campaign. Some replies on Facebook become a complete idea sometimes.

For example, this evening my friend Scott Anderson commented on an article I posted about Donald Trump.

He wrote: Is he worse than Cruz? They are all bat shit crazy

And the improvisation started:

They’re both in the batshit crazy category, but it is so batshit crazy inside that category that you can never say which is currently more batshit crazy.

You may think one is batshit crazier than the other with a high degree of certainty and just then, with an audibly sharp “Frack,” the other goes batshit crazier to take the lead. I haven’t been able to test it, but I theorize that this happens several thousand times a second. The egos of Trump and Cruz are so massively bat shit crazy that the pressures must be intense. If we could tune into the signal, see the singularity of batshit craziness in the Republican primary, where would that insight lead us?

How about Gore/Warren, with Bernie Sanders designated to become Attorney General or Secretary of Health and Human Services, against Rubio/Kasich (Strident and Duller)? That’s my prediction. Gore’s too rich now to be bought, an idea the Trumpies seem to value, and he could tap the Kennedy era spirit of reinvention in the face of global warming. Gore has the money, and could bring plenty of Democratic money, to battle the Koch Network. Finally, he can take the mantel of economic growth from Bill Clinton, something Hillary can’t do. Just spitballing that Gore idea.

Jump in, Al Gore, jump in! [End improvisation]

I’m going to keep this up. I’ll post the complete ideas that emerge. Some of these will be steps toward broader consequences of the election, but I’ll write about technology and business, too.

We live in the Age of Guile

The following in response to Joe Eisner on Facebook:

Maybe Trump will be the man who sells the world. He and his sidekick, Vladimir Putin, will have a reality show that satisfies their insatiable egos. We’ve lived to see the stranger become truth and everything, from the economy to political decisions, fiction.

I hope his presidential reality tv catchphrase will be “Come on Vlad, let’s find some broads” instead of the insidious evil in “Build walls and burn the disagreers–we’ll rebuild at a higher margin per square foot,” which seems to be his current game plan.

Your friend in confusing times. Etc.

Our ancestors lived in various golden and guilded eras, which counted only money as outcomes. The new aspect of our times involve the use of social capital massive advantage. A rich television star and a democratic socialist are leveraging those uncounted advantages this election cycle to rally apparently powerful political bases.

I suggest our current economic-political environment be referred to as “The Age of Guile.” Cunning use of social capital produces a Trump, on the one hand, and a Bernie Sanders on the other. Bernie uses more truth than Trump, as a recent Washington Post analysis, which is debated here, as all analysis ought to be. Nevertheless, Sanders hones his message to be attractive to his base, who are prepared to repeat it in social media wherever he says it, very much like Trump. That’s why Bernie Sanders can marshal millions of dollars in small donations each month without a lot of spending. Trump has broken all records for campaign spending efficiency using the same strategy.

Guile can be used for good, as the Star Wars franchise demonstrated in its first trilogy, when the Force triumphed over evil. Since then the Force has always been on the struggling side of the Skywalker family’s internal battles. Likewise, there seem to be more quiet bigots in waiting for Trump than there will be college kids fired up by Senator Saunders.

Guile has outwitted the Republican and Democratic establishments. Rabid libertarian capitalism has more money to throw behind its candidate than all of academia combined. Wealthy guile is likely to triumph over rambunctious age combined with a youth movement, and only if Sanders can get past Hillary Clinton.

Trump looks like the potential winner who is most tyrannical of all available choices. He’s emblematic of The Age of Guile, and guile’s most dangerous practitioner.

Explaining the Local On-Demand Economy

What does the local on-demand economy mean to companies and their customers? In this keynote address at BIA/Kelsey NOW, Mike Boland and I explain the rise of logistical systems for small business and individuals and how it changes the nature of work. In a nutshell, society built the old economy to keep needed resources on the bench and ready to work. Today, work will be assigned and completed through systems that put customers in control of the supply chains that serve them. It raises issues of fairness, as labor struggles to adapt and rethink how to build a “career.”

The whole talk is on YouTube, in case the player below doesn’t load in your browser.

Why, I wonder, are we…

as species always just one step away from declaring “We’ll be better off without these kinds of people,” and acting on that nutty reasoning to the detriment of the next poor son of a gun to have their ox gored, until, reason suggests, a few people are left battling over great fortunes while the rest wait to learn our fate? It’s time for a second act, humanity. Now. You heard me.

Where systems and worlds collide you’ll find politics

Over at Doc Searls’ excellent VRM list, there is a discussion about “governance.” Some like the word, others hate it — the concept is naturally troubling for engineers who generally ignore abstractions. But this is an inevitable crossroads for any large-scale systems development. It’s the Technologist’s Bane: We still have to do society, there’s no building successful systems that will ignore social priorities. That’s what we are arguing about here – the “governance” of the Net, the organization, the partnership all need at every level to be negotiable within a reasonable range in order for transactions to have novel outcomes not reinforcing of previous models.

Government served this function, as the setting for negotiation and enforcer of rights, but we’ve hit the limit of governmental flexibility and responsiveness – thank you, Congress – when crossing the national-transnational boundaries that the Net naturally crosses with impunity. Here, where people’s lives are shaped and reshaped by the system, we cannot shrug off the hard problems because of a distaste for politics, allocating them to the future, so we can “figure them out later.”

This is where trust meets the road, where the cogs have to be aligned, where our initial agreements will be born. Right here is where VRM must say “the battle of all against all” is over and a new alternative exists that can be understood easily and intuitively by all while producing novel socio-economic outcomes.

While working with Dee Hock’s Chaordic Alliance, which worked to establish organizational models that could be adapted, and adopted to specific needs, I repeatedly saw the governance argument derail implementation of a new organizational model. Concerns parochial often won out, preventing organizations from changing too drastically, undercutting the Chaordic model that emphasized self-organization and shared governance to ensure ongoing transparency for NEW members in relation to the founding members. Without the inflow of new members, there is no growth and the system will become moribund.

Rather than reject governance, we need to find a new respect for the nuance of social interaction involved in negotiation and decision-making so that systems can be engineered on standards that include sufficient flexibility for a wide range of experimentation within the model. Instead, people tend to either reject governance or monopolize governance by making the process opaque. Then the system becomes either an ongoing battlefield that quickly destroys the value of the system or it results in a hegemony by the early participants, who know how the system “really works,” which is just another way of saying we’ve found a way to facilitate bald political power in a new environment and you, new people, are on the outside.

This will be the hardest mountain for VRM or any variation on these ideas to overcome. It killed the Chaordic Commons. Tom’s call for analysis and reflection on the existing system and the proposed new system is the only viable next step. Some parts of the old models will still be valuable, represented here by the concepts of private property and fungible value, the ability to engineer a transactional environment in order to profit from facilitating the transactions, among others.

It’s time for experimentation and pragmatic debate.