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/

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.

Productive meetings vs. the cluster-call: New collaboration thoughts

A couple weeks ago, I asked via LinkedIn and Twitter, what makes a meeting productive. The question has led me to conclude that a new type of collaborative activity, the cluster-call, is an opportunity for greater productivity, but also can be a barrier to innovation because it is not managed differently than a meeting.

For several years, a new kind of collaboration activity has been developing on the foundation of telecommunications, the cluster-call, a continuous use of partial attention via conference call. These are virtual gatherings, typically scheduled so that all the participants can be available if — and that’s the key condition — if something comes up for which they have responsibility. Cluster-calls typically involve 30 to 60 people, all of whom are splitting their attention between the call, listening of hot button issues, and some form of work or diversion. One hears of these calls as “a meeting that is getting a lot of momentum.” I often suspect that these calls are the source of the hours of social media use, or Solitaire play, that managers fear to count on their activity reports. Cluster-calls are, however, a viable form of collaboration at the right scale.

Cluster-calls work when they are not substitutes for meetings with an agenda that requires a decision. They are excellent collaboration environments in the right size and with the right scope. Teams, rather than cross-team collaboration, are best served by the constant connectivity of a cluster-call. As people continue to work, they can tap anyone in their team, or reach out individually to bring someone from another team onto the call, to address questions, discover information and brainstorm. But try to turn a cluster-call into a daily meeting, treating it like a scrum or stand-up meeting, where people use the immediacy of the agenda to get work done, and the call will degenerate into a protracted distraction from productive work.

So, how do you have a productive meeting? Or a productive cluster-call? A meeting, whether physical or virtual, is defined by its goals. A cluster-call is a setting for outcomes, but without an agenda, it becomes primarily a regulator of change. On large cluster-calls, people tend to focus on what can stop or interrupt normal business activity. They flag concerns without being obligated to provide solutions, so these kinds of gatherings are hotbeds of change prevention.

“[It] depends on the sort of meeting, but generally, when clear goals have been defined & everyone knows what they’re supposed to do,” replied Phillip Mueller, a German entrepreneur living in The Netherlands. This describes a productive use of time, it could apply to any kind of gathering.

Robert Reddick, a Charlotte, N.C. entrepreneur, offers that a productive meeting is “a place to pre-flight and execute decisions,” also a result that could come from a meeting or a cluster-call. But without an agenda, the framework for decision-making is typically absent.

A cluster-call, which is simply a way of describing being simultaneously connected to a virtual space, works great for small groups who are dealing with a lot of uncertainty. In this age of demanding competition, where people come and go from small projects, cluster-calls let people learn quickly in small groups. A scrum meeting, for instance, can be extremely productive, because people share information as the need for sharing becomes apparent. People talk about things and when someone on the call doesn’t know about the project or subject of conversation, they can ask. Often the instructions come offline, away from the cluster-call, but the group determines when that is necessary.

Small groups constantly connected can thrive. Bring 30 or 60 people together, a common practice these days in larger companies, and the productivity becomes the explorations of limits. The limits of the group’s knowledge, the limit of the group’s tolerance for new ideas, for change and the limits of the organization’s flexibility become apparent. The outcome is that everyone is quiet unless they see the need to raise a flag. It’s easier to play along and be quiet in these large meetings.

There is a breed of participation in cluster-calls: Grand-standing. It becomes a regular occurrence that a small, consistent group dominates the calls, exercising their expertise without actually intending to share that expertise. Knowledge is a crowded cluster-call is like the knowledge that drives crowds: The noisiest people keep things moving in one direction.

Meetings should be recognized as events with agendas. If the agenda isn’t addressed, that is not a productive meeting. On the other hand, a small cluster-call can work effectively  without an agenda, though it must not become routine or it will descend into unproductive activity. A regularly scheduled call of 40 to 60 people (I’ve been on these calls with up to 90 participants on several occasions), even with an agenda, becomes an exercise that reinforces the flow of information, downward due to the likelihood that any newcomer, any controversial idea will be squelched by the people most likely to grandstand.

Leadership based on the intimidating presence of a crowd that will agree quietly destroys the organization. Which is why the road from democracy to tyranny is always paved by populists, as well.

Rationale for a nightmare

“This notion that the economy is self-stabilising is usually right but it is wrong a few times a century. And this is one of those times….” Lawrence Summers, Obama economic advisor in today’s Financial Times.

This is the wrong argument, one that supports unregulated markets most of the time. Rather, we’ve learned that the balance of market and regulatory power is something that cannot remain static over time, that constant retooling is needed. IF we want to think differently, it’s time to acknowledge that mixed markets are the healthiest and that, once this crisis is over, there is no “going back,” because the unregulated economy has demonstrated it is a ruinous economy.

Warren Buffett agrees: “We want to err on the side next time of not allowing big institutions to get as unchecked on leverage as we have allowed them to do.”

Where is conservative “country first?”

The American Spectator derides conservatives who met with President-elect Barack Obama in a headline and short posting yesterday: Obama Meets With Ex-Conservatives.

Talking to Obama apparently confirms the failure of these commentators, including George Will and William Kristol, in their conservative orthodoxy. In other words, they are “talking to the enemy.”

Whether The American Spectator likes it or not, Obama won the election. Rather than proclaiming, as one Vice President Dick Cheney did, that winning an election gives the party in power the right to collect “our due,” Obama is talking to everyone.

That’s what democracy is, leading rather than commanding.

But our co-countrymen on the right seem to think that, if they do it, refusing to talk to or cooperate with the President, is not disloyal or traitorous. Country after party is their motto. Unlike them, I will not ask them to leave the country that they clearly love less than the power that country occasionally grants them.

In related news, the Republican Senators who now claim they won’t give a “blank check” to the incoming president, the same blank check handed to their man when he was in office, are playing politics with TARP money. All the problems with Washington politics conservatives decry when become standard operating procedure when they are out of power.