Joho the BlogJune 2012 - Joho the Blog

June 30, 2012

Amerzing pherters

Two sets of amazing photos:

Wikimedia Commons has announced its best photos of the year.

Here’s one I like. It’s by Simon Pierre Barrette.

Also, the New York Hall of Science is exhibiting the winners of the international The Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition. These are amerrrzing photos of microscopic subjects. Totally amahhzning. See them here.

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June 29, 2012

[aspen] Eric Schmidt on the Net and Democracy

Eric Schmidt is being interviewed by Jeff Goldberg about the Net and Democracy. I’ll do some intermittent, incomplete liveblogging…

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

NOTE: Posted without having even been re-read. Note note (a few hours later): I’ve done some basic cleanup.

After some amusing banter, Jeff asks Eric about how responsible he felt Google was for Arab Spring. Jeff in passing uses the phrase “Internet revolution.”

ES: Arab Spring was enabled by a failure to censure the Internet. Google enabled people to organize themselves. Especially in Libya, five different militias were able to organize their armed revolt by using the Net. It’s unfair to the people who died to call it an “Internet revolution.” But there were fewer people who died, in part because of the incessant media coverage. And we’ve seen that it’s very easy to start what some call an Internet revolution, but very hard to finish it.

JG: These were leaderless revolutions, crowdsourced revolution. But in Egypt the crowd’s leaders were easily pushed aside after Mubarek fell.

ES: True leaders are very hard to find. In Libya, there are 80 militias, armed to the teeth. In most of the countries there were repressed Muslim groups that have emerged as leaders because they organized while repressed. Whoever takes over inherits financial and social problems, and will be thrown out if they fail.

JG: Talk about Google’s tumultuous relationship with China…

ES: There are lots of reasons to think that China works because its citizens like its hierarchical structure. But I think you can’t build a knowledge society without freedom. China wants to be a knowledge society. It’s unclear if China’s current model gets them past a middle income GDP. Google thought that if we gave them free access to info, the Chinese people would revolt. We were wrong, and we moved Google to Hong Kong, on the open side of the Great Firewall. (We had to because that’s the Chinese law.) Now when you enter a forbidden query, we tell the user that it’s likely to be blocked. We are forbidden from announcing what the forbidden terms are because we don’t want employees put in jail.

JG: Could Arab Spring happen in China? Could students organize Tianamen Square now?

ES: They could use the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. But if someone organizes a protest, two people show up, plus 30 media, and 50 police.

JG: Google’s always argued that democratization of info erodes authoritarian control. Do you still believe that?

ES: The biggest thing I’ve learned is how hard it is to learn about the differences among people in and within countries. I continue to believe that this device [mobile phone] will change the world. The way to solve most of the world’s problems is by educating people. Because these devices will become ubiquitous, it’ll be possible to see how far we humans can get. With access to the Net, you can sue for justice. In the worst case you can actually shame people.

JG: And these devices can be used to track people.

ES: Get people to understand they have choices, and they will eventually organize. Mobiles tend to record info just by their nature. The phone company knows where you are right now. You’re not worried about that because a law says the phone company can’t come harass you where you’re sitting. In a culture where there isn’t agreement about basic rights…

JG: Is there evidence that our democracy is better off for having the Internet?

ES: When we built the Net, that wasn’t the problem we were solving. But more speech is better. There’s a lack of deliberative time in our political process. Our leaders will learn that they’ll make better decisions if they take a week to think about things. Things will get bad enough that eventually reason will prevail. We complain about our democracy, but we’re doing quite well. The US is the beacon of innovation, not just in tech, but in energy. “In God we trust … all others have to bring data.” Politicians should just start with some facts.

JG: It’s easier to be crazy and wrong on the Net.

ES: 0.5% of Americans are literally crazy. Two years ago, their moms got them broadband connections. And they have a lot of free time. Google is going to learn how to rank them. Google should enable us to hear all these voices, including the crazy people, and if we’re not doing that, we’re not doing our job.

JG: I googled “Syria massacre” this morning, and the first story was from Russia Today that spun it…

ES: It’s good that you have a choice. We have to educate ourselves and our children. Not everything written is true, and very powerful forces want to convince you of lies. The Net allows that, and we rank against it, but you have to do your own investigation.

JG: Google is hitting PR problems. Talk about privacy…

ES: There’s no delete button on the Net. When you’re a baby, no one knows anything about you. As you move through life, inevitably more people know more about you. We’re going to have to learn about that. The wifi info gathering by StreetView was an error, a mistake, and we’ve apologized for it.

JG: The future of journalism?

ES: A number of institutions are figuring out workable models. The Atlantic [our host]. Politico. HuffingtonPost. Clever entrepreneurs are figuring out how to make money. The traditional incumbents have been reduced in scale, but there are plenty of new voices. BTW, we just announced a tablet with interactive, dynamic magazines. To really worry about: We grew up with the bargain that newspapers had enough cash flow to fund long term investigative research. That’s a loss to democracy. The problem hasn’t been fully solved. Google has debated how to solve it, but we don’t want to cross the content line because then we’d be accused of bias in our rankings.

JG: Will search engines search for accuracy rather than popularity?

ES: Google’s algorithms are not about popularity. They’re about link structures, and we start from well-known sources. So we’re already there. We just have to get better.

JG: In 5 yrs what will the tech landscape look like?

ES: Moore’s Law says that in 5 yrs there will be more power for less money. We forget how much better our hw is now than even 5 years. And it’s faster than Moore’s Law for disks and fiber optic connections. Google is doing a testbed optical installation. At that bandwidth all media are just bits. We anticipate a lot of specialty devices.

JG: How do you expect an ordinary, competent politician to manage the info flow? Are we inventing tech that is past our ability to process info?

ES: The evidence is that the tech is bringing more human contact. The tech lets us express our humanity. We need a way of sorting politicians better. I’d suggest looking for leaders who work from facts.

JG: Why are you supporting Obama?

ES: I like having a smart president.

JG: Is Romney not smart?

ES: I know him. He’s a good man. I like Obama’s policies better.


Q: Our connectivity is 3rd world. Why haven’t we been able to upgrade?

A: The wireless networks are running out of bandwidth. The prediction is they’ll be saturated in 2016. Maybe 2017. That’s understandable: Before, we were just typing online and now we’re watching movies. The White House in a few weeks is releasing a report that says that we can share bandwidth to get almost infinite bandwidth. Rather than allocating a whole chunk that leaves most of it unused, using interference databases we think we can fix this problem. [I think but please correct me: A database of frequency usages so that unused frequencies in particular geographic areas can be used for new signals.]

A: The digital can enhance our physical connections. E.g., a grandmother skyping with a grandchild.

JG: You said you can use the Net to shame govts. But there are plenty of videos of Syria doing horrible things, but it’s done no good.

ES: There are always particularly evil people. Syria is the exception. Most countries, even autocratic ones, are susceptible to public embarrassment.

Q: Saying “phones by their nature collect data” evades responsibility.

ES: I meant that in order to their work, they collect info. What we allow to be done with that info is a legal, cultural issue.

Q: Are we inherently critical thinkers? If not, putting info out there may not lead to good decisions.

ES: There’s evidence that we’re born to react quickly. Our brains can be taught reasoning. But it requires strong family and education.

Q: Should there be a bill of rights to simplify the legalese that express your privacy rules?

ES: It’s a fight between your reasonable point of view, and the lawyers and govt that regulate us. Let me reassure you: If you follow the goal of Google to have you as a customer, the quickest way to lose you is to misuse your information. We are one click away from competitors who are well run and smart. [unless there was money in it, or unless they could get away with it, or…]

Q: Could we get rid of representative democracy?

ES: It’ll become even more important to have democratic processes because it’s all getting more complicated. For direct democracy we’d have to spend all day learning about the issues and couldn’t do our jobs.

JG: David Brooks, could you comment? Eric is an enormous optimist…

ES: …The evidence is on my side!

JG: David, are you as sanguine that our politicians will learn to slow their thinking down, and that Americans have the skills to discern the crap from the true.

David Brooks: It’s not Google’s job to discern what’s true. There are aggregators to do this, including the NYT and TheBrowser. I think there’s been a flight to quality. I’m less sanguine about attention span. I’m less sanguine about confirmation bias, which the Web makes easier.

ES: I generally agree with that. There’s evidence that we tend to believe the first thing we hear, and we judge plus and minus against that. The answer is always for me culture, education.

Q: Will there be a breakthrough in education?

ES: Education changes much more slowly than the world does. Sometimes it seems to me that education is run for the benefit of the teachers. They should do measurable outcomes, A-B testing. There’s evidence that physics can be taught better by setting a problem and then do a collaborative effort, then another problem…

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[aspen] Robert Putnam on the growing class gap

Robert Putnam is giving a talk at the Aspen Ideas Festival called “Requiem for the American Dream? Unequal Opportunity in America.” It’s a project in its middle stages, he says. If a book comes out of the research, it’s a year or two out.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

There’s a difference between the inequality of income and wealth, and inequality of opportunity. Historically Americans have not cared much about income inequality…less than is typical of the rest of the world. But we do care about unequal opportunity and unequal social mobility. Concern about income inequality has sometimes divided along party lines, but not opportunity inequality. Historically we’ve been better than most other countries in the distribution of opportunity.

Income distribution has become more skewed since the 1970s in America, and in many other countries. We’ve also become a more class-segregated society, even as we’ve become less segregated by race and religion. Class segregation is increasing by residence, education, organization, and marriage; i.e., it’s less likely you’ll marry outside of your class. There’s also been a fraying of family and social bonds within the working class. Robert asks if this has an effect on the growing inequality of opportunity.

He talks about his methodology. The standard way of measuring social mobility compares 30-somethings’ economic/educational/social standing with their parents’ standing when the parents were in their 30s. But this means all the action is at least twenty years old; the latest studies look at people raised in the 1980s. Robert is instead looking at today’s kids, to avoid the 20-30 year old blind spot in the rearview mirror. “If we look out the windshield, we’re about to go over a cliff when it comes to social mobility…Social mobility and opportunity are going to plummet.”

If something is important enough to write about, it ought to show up in multiple measures, he says. He will show us robust patterns in multiple data sources, focusing only on class differences. He’s only looking at white youth for now, because while racial gaps remain important, they are increasingly based on class, not race. It’s important to look at race issues, but that’s not what Robert is considering. He says if you look at race as well, the social mobility trends look even worse. So, he’s going to show us growing class gaps over the past 30 years among white kids with 2-parent families.

He shows charts. The rate of births to unmarried mothers who are college grads hasn’t changed. But the percentage of those births to women with some college and women with no college has significantly increased. About a third of the births to unmarried women are to women with some college; it’s about half for women with no college. Meanwhile, the racial gap (i.e., race controlling for class) fell dramatically while the class gap (class controlling for race) grew at about the same rate. I.e., high school educated white folks are behaving more and more like high school educated non-white folks. “I’m not saying race doesn’t matter. I’m saying class matters a whole lot more. And race matters a whole lot less.”

Another chart. ” Over the last two decades or so, white kids coming from less educated, less well-off backgrounds are more and more going through life with only one parent at home.”

A chart of the “growing class gap in enrichment expenditures [day care, tutors, games, etc., but not private school] on children, 1972-2006.” At the bottom of the hierarchy, the expenditure has increased about $400 per child over the past 40 years, but at the middle income, it’s gone up $5K.

The time people invest in their kids — reading to the kids, etc., but not including diaper changing time, etc. — again shows a growth gap between those with a higher ed and those without. In the 1970s, moms with only HS were investing slightly more time with their kids. Now the number of minutes for both is going up, the growth has been “much much faster” among college educated moms. When you add in the dads, the gap grows even larger — it’s up to an hour a day more quality time with their parents.

When in the lifecycle of the child is the class gap biggest? It’s concentrated among infants. “It’s terrible. Just terrible.”

How are kids connecting at schools? Looking at participation in extracurricular activities, and activities outside school like music lessons, dance lessons, art lessons, etc., excluding sports. (This is, he reminds us, only data about white kids, but the class gap gets worse if you add in non-white kids.) Kids in the lower income quartile have declining participation rates. Those in the highest quartile have a growing rate. (The decline began sharply in 1982.)

Same chart for participation in sports. For kids becoming team captains, it’s stayed steady for the lower quartile kids. Middle class kids were always more likely to become team captains, but now 26% of them say that they’ve been team captains. “Think about what kids are learning” from these activities: how to get along with kids, how to make connections with people who are not like them… the skill set we need in this new world. (Robert tells us HS football was invented by progressives about 100 years ago as a way to get kids from all classes playing together.)

Outside school in music, dance and art lessons: same growing gap.

There is a declining gap in participation in student government. But that’s happening in part because upper quartile kids are choosing not to participate. The other area in which the gap is declining is in “vocational clubs,” e.g., shop, motorcycle club. Again, the upper class kids are declining to participate.

Church-going: All are decreasing, but the upper third is decreasing much less rapidly. “There’s been a catastrophic drop in church attendance among children of working class parents.”

The chart of comunity volunteering is more complex, but overall the upper tercile has been rapidly increasing, while the bottom tercile has been dopping in the 2000’s. One possible explanation: Robert points out that colleges like to see community volunteering on applications.

Chart of social support: Do you have someone you can count on? Sharply increasing gap. Working class kids: it’s been pretty flat. Ask “Would you say most people can be trusted?” and you’ll see a long-term decline among the kids of parents in the bottom tercile, while the upper tercile kids have become more trusting. “And why not?” The upper class kids have plenty of social support, while the support systems are being withdrawn from the bottom tercile kids.

All this shows up in reading and math test scores. Increasing gap mapped against class. Declining gap mapped against race.

Bottom line: “There’s a growing class gap among American youth among all the predictors of success in life.” “A social mobility crash is coming” as these cohorts move into adulthood. Everyone who’s looked at the data agrees, he says.

But what has this happened? We don’t know for sure. About ten years ago he was in the White House talking with Pres. Bush, Karl Rove, and others, talking about this. (He charmingly apologizes for namedropping.) The first question W asked was “How much of this has do to family structure?” A: A little less than half. Even if you look only at 2-parent families, the gap is there but only about half of the size. None of it is due to immigration. But, suggested Robert, it might be due to the income gap. Then Laura Bush said “If you don’t know how long you’re going to keep your house or your job, you have less energy to invest in your kids.” Robert thinks this makes sense.

Possible explanations: (1) Upper class families have increased their investment in cognitive and non-cognitive development. (2) Collapse of white working class. (3) Laura Bush’s hypothesis. (4) The social safety nets are gone: churches, sports leagues, parks and rec, etc. “If the chick falls out of the nest, all that’s down there are gangs.” It is, he says, a perfect storm.

This is a problem that the two parties should be able to cooperate on, if they could cooperate about anything. We need to boost caring families, boost jobs and wages for the bottom half of the workforce, invest in public education, invest in in high quality Head Start, and have more reliable volunteer mentors. “I don’t know what else we can do to fix the problem…but if we don’t fix it we’re writing off a third of our workforce. And, it’s just not fair.” Until we think of all of these kids as our kids, “we’re in a pickle.”


Q: Any data on kids of parents in the military?

A: I don’t have data. I wish I did because enlisted men and women are mostly drawn from the lower class, and my hunch is that their kids are doing better than non-military kids. I think that the discipline instilled into the military maybe carries over into the structure of the families.

Q: I teach HS in a rural area of OR. We got multicultural sensitivity training. I asked why aren’t we talking about class because I see it every day. I hope your work translates into teacher training.

A: Surprisingly to me, when I talk to groups, almost always when elementary school teachers speak up, they say they see this problem in their own class.

Q: Harrington, NSF, others have said the same thing over the years. This is the fourth time I’ve seen the same red flag. How does this translate into policy?

A: This particular growing gap wasn’t true in Harrington’s day. There’s always been a class gap in American society but it’s way worse than in the ’60s. I’m working on a book aimed at a mass market. We’re gathering the stories of these kids. I’m hoping that if you talk about real kids, it will get people’s attention. I desperately fear we’re going to have a partisan argument about who’s to blame, and I don’t care about that.

Q: Some will argue about the cost.

A: It’ll be much more expensive not to fix this. These lower third kids will be on unemployment and in prison….

Q: College admissions could be fixed…

A: Most of the damage is done way before then.

Q: The social safety net is under constant resource. We need govt policy and money. Our churches and philanthropies are not enough.

A: I’m a progressive Democrat so I think govt has a role to play. But this is a fundamental American issue. It does have to involve churches. I happen to think that hugs and time are more important than money, but money is important too.


[aspen][2b2k] Ideo’s Tim Brown

Tim Brown of Ideo is opening his Aspen Ideas Festival talk with a slide presentation called “From Newton to Design”. He says he’s early in thinking it through.

He points to a problem in how we’ve thought about design, trained designers, and have practiced design. The great thing about designing simple products is that you can know almost everything about them: who made them, who they’re for, how they were produced, etc. But as products get more complicated, it gets harder even for a team of designers to really understand what’s going on. They get so complicated that there are lots of places design can fail.

When we go out to urban planning , that becomes even more obvious, he says. He shows Union Sq. when it was designed and how wildly NYC has grown around it. Or, at the Courtyard Marriott chain, every element of the user’s experience has been thought through. He shows a script that specifies every interaction. But you can’t anticipate everything. E.g., JetBlue is one of the best designed customer experiences and even they got it wrong a couple of winters ago.

What’s going on? It’s all about complexity. Henri Poincaré in the 19th century tried to solve the three body problem that had been set by the French govt as an open source competition. HP couldn’t solve it. It sounds like a simple problem, but it’s very hard. [BTW, there’s a fascinating history of three French aristocrats hand-computing the movement of Halley’s Comet, which depended on calculating the gravitational influences of multiple bodies. Can’t find the ref at the moment]

Our basic ideas about design have been based on Newton, says Tim. Design assumes the ability to predict the future based on the present. We need to think more like Darwin: design as an evolutionary process. Design is more about emergence, never finished.

He presents a few principles of Darwinian design that he’s been exploring.

1. Design behaviors, not objects — the behaviors that come from our interactions with objects. If you’ve traveled on the high speed trains in Europe, there are signs urging men to be more accurate when peeing. But at Schiphol Airport, they print a fly at the right spot in the urinal; men became 80% more accurate. That’s designing behavior; the actual object doesn’t matter.

2. Design for information flow. Nicholas Christakis has looked at how networks affect behavior. Tesco uses its loyalty card — which cost them 20% of their margins — to increase sales.

3. Faster iteration = faster evolution. Viruses evolve faster than we do because they iterate faster than we do. E.g., State Farm tried out a new idea how to build relationships with the new generation. They built one storefront for this, and learned from it. “Launch to learn.”

4. Use selective emergence. This intrigues him, alathough he doesn’t know how useful it will be in design. Rather than random mutations, you choose what might be interesting and design things that get us there through many iterations. I.e., genetic algorithms. E.g., the Strandbeest walks along beaches with a hip joint unlike any in nature because the artist used genetic algorithms.

5. Take an experimental approach. I.e., testing hypotheses. Cf. Eric Ries, the Lean Startup (build, measure, learn). E.g., has been working on sanitation in Ghana. Where you can’t dig septic pits, Ideo has been experimenting with low cost receptacle toilets (with bio-digesters). But people didn’t want to pay for the service. So, they gave some to families and went away for three days. All the families changed their minds and said they are willing to pay for the service (which is provided by a local franchise).

6. Focus on simple rules. This comes from emergence theory. E.g., complex bird flocking patterns are based on simple rules. [Canonical example: Termite mounds.] E.g., Bi-Rite stores in SF uses simple rules: If an employee is within 10′ of a customer, you look the customer in the eye. If within 4′, you talk with them. This creates a wonderful service experience.

7. Design is never done. E.g., World of Warcraft is constantly being designed by its players.

8. The power of purpose. This creates the self-governance these complex environments succeed. Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street are examples. Companies are experimenting with new ways of thinking about their business and products. E.g., Patagonia tells you not to buy its products because it also wants to preserve the environment.

The prototypical design artefact is a blue print. Once you created the blue print, the design was done. It was the instruction set for someone to make it. That’s how we think about design: finish and done. What replaces it: Code. It might be DNA (and Tim has people researching this), but more often it’s programming code. It’s an instruction set that can continue to evolve.

Now James Fallows [swoon] interviews him.

JF: You embody your principles. The rules are differen from a prior version. [ACK! Crash. Missed about 2 minutes]

TB: We’ve just finished designing the prototype experience for the new health care exchanges. It will affect how people choose which health care insurance to choose. Today it’s done with paper. Under the new health care laws, lots of people will get to make these choices. We worked with the CA Healthcare Foundation to prototype the user experience. What are the key pieces are parts? How can we keep the choices reasonably simple? Then each state will use this a platform to develop their own.

JF: And the govt had the wit to come to you to do this?

TB: The CA Health Care Foundation…

JF: What are the barriers? Does it cost more to do it your way?

TB: It’s often less costly. Most often they don’t have a good understanding of what their customers go through. When a health care org comes to us, relatively frequently we find out that a senior exec had to go through the health care experience. It’s true of all organizations. We don’t ask the right questions. The urgency to change is not there, and the resistance to change is always huge.

JF: Has the TSA come to you?

TB: Yes, but … well, we learned a lot. In the previous admin, we worked with them to find areas of change. Although going through the scanners has to improve, a lot of it has to do with the behavior of the people. They looked at a training program that was intended to take away some of the rule-based system they used. The more rules you apply, the less sensitive the system is. You need to give the people in that system much more independence to make judgments.

JF: Who do you hire?

TB: We look for a wide range of people. Many disciplines. We look for deep skills, and for empathy. It’s hard to solve problems for others without that. Also, most of what we do is too complex for individuals, so we work in teams, and thus people need an enthusiasm for empathy.

JF: Any unusual interview techniques?

TB: We put people into a situation in which they’re practicing design. E.g., intern program. Also, competitions. And we use Open Ideo as a way of seeing how people work.

JF: Beyond the toilet, what else are you doing for “design for poverty.”

TB: I got excited when I saw the opportunities for design in some social design work. At Open Ideo we’re working on clean water, early ed programs, etc. is a non-profit org. We want it to be sustainable and scalable so we look for external funding for it.

JF: How do you approach environmental sustainability?

TB: We try to build that into every project. Every project affects the environment. We try to bring sustainable thinking around systems, materials, energy flows, etc.

JF: What projects are you proudest of?

TB: The work we do in health care, including with Kaiser Permanente. Also, consumer-facing, post-crash financial services. PNC digital wallet. “Keep the change.” Etc. This is not an area where design has had much to do.


TB: For physical objects, it peaked maybe 20-30 years ago (with Apple as an exception). But we’re in ascendance for behavior-based designed. We get 25,000 apps a year for 100 openings. We’re a 600-person company. Etsy, Kickstarter, sw designed better than ever before…great things are happening. Soon if not already the number of digital designers will be greater than all other designers combined.

Q & A

Q: Your principles are so close to Buckminister Fuller’s [says the guy from the Fuller institute]. But the boundary between social and evolutionary systems is illusory.

TB: Yes, Fuller figured this out a long time ago. We’re perhaps resurrecting ideas, as every generation does. Design has operated as a priesthood for too long. When I started, I was only interested in how beautiful something is. That’s so much simpler. Opening design up to many more will convince us all that we’re all part of this big design ecosystem and have a responsibility to be thoughtful about the contributions we’re making to the world around us. I hope professional designers learn to enable that, more than controlling it. The B School at Stanford is introducing non-designers to design, which is great.

Q: What can we do to simplify the rules?

TB: The unstated bit of my thesis is that you still have to stop and design something. We develop an idea, perhaps more through iteration. That process doesn’t change. For rebuilding a complex system, maybe big data will help us to see patterns that allow us to understand what we’re designing’s complex effects…but I don’t think we’re there yet. We should be thinking about the hooks we’re building in. I’m big into APIs that allow other people to build with what you’ve built.

Q: Is it training or DNA that determines a good employee for you?

TB: Both. We hire people straight out of grad school because they’re moldable. We hire older people, but it’s harder for them to adapt. I don’t have much control as CEO. The future of all businesses is to have cultures that are a s self-governing as possible. That’s much more resilient and agile than cultures built on inflexible rule sets.

Q: I chair a land conservancy. We create parks in urban areas. Does Ideo have much experience in designing to create behaviors that will get people to use parks? What’s your view of the state of park design?

TB: We don’t have a lot of expertise in designing anything because we like designing everything. The High Line and the West Side park in NYC are remarkable examples. Projects like that show that parks can be remarkable assets to the city. We’re working with High Line on the third phase of that project. NYC’s life expectancy has gone up 3 yrs. Two explanations: People are closer to health facilities, and people walk more.

Q: What are the logistics of running a decentralized org? Mentoring? Sharing a vision?

TB: Purpose creates a sense of direction, so we talk about why the heck we’re doing what we’re doing. We think we should measure everything we do based on the impact it has on the word. We’ve done an occasionally decent job of mentoring; that can be a problem with a decentralized org. It’s a tension. Most of our employees probably want more mentoring, but we also want autonomy. We are not big believers in warehousing knowledge. Designers hate reusing other people’s ideas. It’s much better to have knowledge systems that inspire people to think in new ways. So we’re a storytelling culture. It’s a bit of an obsession of ours. If you do a piece of work, your job is to have some stories to tell about it. That’s more effective than big reports that live in a database somewhere.

(JF calls for all remaining questions)

Q: My group works with at-risk youth. Education is increasingly standards based, but your work is collaborative.

Q: How do you look at chaos? People in open markets are open and affectionate. In corporate controlled spaces, people shut down.

Q: Does form drive function or vice versa?

Q: Apple is a closed system. Google wants more control. Open vs. controlled systems?

TB: 1. University ed is not always the best way to teach entrepreneurship. Apprenticeships are interesting. 2. Great markets are vibrant, but not chaotic. I take clients to the Ferry building to point out all the interrelated pieces that make that such a great experience. It’s not top down, but you can see the patterns and use them as inspiration. 3. Form follow function? Hard to kick that notion because I believe in beautiful engineering, but most things we’re designing today have hundreds of functions, so you can’t get a single form for it. 4. I love closed systems but I think they’re inevitably part of an open system. IOS is part of an open system of everything else that I do with it. We need both. [At last! Something I disagree with! Sort of! :)]

[Fantastic. I’ve been a huge fan of Ideo’s work, and Ideo’s organizational ethos, and Tim Brown, for a long time. So I felt particularly narcissistic as I heard this talk through Cluetrain and Too Big to Know lenses. Substitute “knowledge” for “design” and you get a lot of the ideas in 2b2k. To hear them coming from Tim Brown, who is a personal idol of mine, was a self-centered thrill.]


June 28, 2012

[aspen] Amanda Michel and Matt Thompson on how the media have changed recently

Amanda Michel, who I know from her time at the Berkman Center, is being interviewed by Matt Thompson. She’s pretty amazing: Howard Dean campaign, Huffpo’s Off the Bus, Pro Publica, and now social media at The Guardian. She’s talking with Matt Thompson from NPR.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

She says that the Off the Bus effort now strikes her as surprisingly structured and profesionalized. For a year and a half, they recruited citizen journalists. Of the 12,000 of the people who participated, only 14% wanted to write articles on their own. The formalized approach Off the Bus took has been adopted by sites that invite readers to contribute their photos, their thoughts, etc.

The biggest shift, she says, is how much the campaigns rely upon data. E.g., how did Romney think he could win Iowa with just a few offices? The people who worked for him had identified die-hard supporters, who were asked to call other supporters, who were also then asked to call. In 2004, we the people were making media constantly. Now the engines driving the campaign are largely under the hood. So, if you’re reporting on campaigns today, you’re doing email analysis to understand the candidates’ strategies

Matt: It’s amazing how much media people now have woven into their days. A study shows that people are now spending 700 mins a day on media. Media is now a layer on top of people’s everyday experience. We looked at how a persistent story — a storm damaging a town — has been told throughout history. The single thing that stood out: We’ve gone from medium as an appointment you keep to media as a constant texture that both succors and buffets you.

Amanda: That’s why in 2008 we used a formalized approach — asking reporters to sign up and giving them assignments — and now people know if they go to a campaign event, they’ll be asked to post photos and twist.

Amanda: How has the shift between media and people changed?

Matt: We used to broadcast. We used to send out msgs. Now people use their mobile devices to talk with one another. We sit in this space, right alongside them. For us at NPR, that position is sweet. Radio is intimate. People can now carry us with them. That intimacy has created a drastically new dynamic for us.

Amanda: At Pro Publica, we worked on “explainers,” explaining questions people have. Readers told us they were particularly useful. I’m interested in how we can hold those in power accountable. We did the “stimulus spotcheck” to see how the economic stimulus money was being used. We asked our readers if we could tell what was going on. I asked readers to help us identify sites. Readers checked 550 sites around the country — 4.5% of construction sites aroiund the country — and we found that that gusher of work was further down the pipeline.

After making multiple phone calls, readers would sometimes say, “Journalism is hard,” which helps them understand the value of journalism.

The big challenge for media institutions is to keep their eye on the ball. The ubiquity of media can give you the false confidence that you’re seeing all there is. You’re checking Twitter, but many stories are much more difficult to find, and there are many people who don’t have a voice.

Amanda: Matt, what do you see coming?

Matt: I try to work through with the journalists the idea that we’re moving from stories toward streams. Humans have told one another stories forever, and will do so. But stories with beginnings, middles, and ends, are being augmented by the constant stream of info. Andy Carvin is constantly tracking events in the Middle East over Twitter. It’s a very different experience — no beginning, middle, end. Twitter gives you a sense of the texture of the lives of the people you follow. “We’re encountering the end of endings,” said Paul Ford. At NPR we’re trying to pull back to tell a longer story, a quest.

Amanda: There is this real need to see the context. Other trends: We’re going to be making sense of the world through the visual. We’re moving from the written word toward the image. At The Guardian, we think about how to bring people along in an ongoing process. How do you tether together items in the stream?

[Great session. My fave so far. But I’m a pretty big fan of both of these people.]


Woohoo! Let’s all go out and get sick!

Holy cow! I did not see that coming.

Amusingly, at 10am this morning, I was giving my talk here at the Aspen Ideas Festival about knowledge in the age of the internet. I’d asked someone to interrupt when the news came through. So at 10:05, someone said: “The court overturned the individual mandate!” And someone else said, “No, they upheld it.” It turns out that CNN got it wrong, but a blogger got it right. Pretty much made one of my points right then.

Anyway, pretty amazing outcome.

And, please, let’s NOT all go out and get sick! Stay well and healthy, my friends.


[aspen] US- Mexico relations

Walter Isaacson is interviewing Ricardo Salinas (Mexicon media billionaire) and Richard Haass (president of the Council on Foreign Relations) about our relationship with Mexico.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Richard H. says that the media only covers drugs and guns when it comes to Mexico, but that’s a very small part of the problem. In fact, Mexico is a major economic success story. Indeed, he says, the Americas are an amazing success story: growing economies, democratic, at peace, overall. Ricardo says that his Mexican company employs 75,000, but they have 15,000 unfilled positions; Americans may emigrate to Mexico to get jobs.

Ricardo says that demand is driving the Mexican drug trade. It has become violent in Mexico, he says, because the president has said, as a policy, “Get them all.” The victims are cartel members — over 50,000 dead. Richard H. says the drug trade is more peaceful in the US because the police aren’t as corrupt. Ricardo says Mexico should adopt the US policy: raise the professionalism of the police, and focus on the violence; let the rest slip for now.

Richard H. asks if MExico will open itself up to foreign oil investors, because Mexico is an under-producer. Ricardo says the national govt gets about 30% of its revenues from oil. There will be foreign investment in extracting the oil, he says, but not in the oil territories themselves. There’s also solar, wind, and geothermal energy in Mexico.

The student movement, inspired by left wing leaders, says the media are closed to them, but that’s untrue, says Ricardo (media mogul). The media are balanced. Calderon’s electoral reform of 2007 gave political parties 3 mins of air time every hour of radio and TV for free. That’s “theft,” Ricardo says.

After the upcoming election, it’s 5 months of waiting. Also, presidents are limited to one 6-year term. Might either of these change? Ricardo says that the five month waiting period should be changed. But there’s no political possibility of changing the one-term rule.

Nicholas Burns: Presidents Bush and Obama have put a lot of their eggs into Brazil as the primary political partner in the Americas. Does that underestimate Mexico? Mexico is a regional power.

Ricardo: Mexico is such a friend that they don’t even take us into consideration. The relationship with Mexico is really good. Huge amounts of investment. The traffic in goods and services is huge. Everything is working fine. Richard H. says US-Mexican trade is 5x US-Brazilian trade. Brazil will probably double its oil output over the next few years, but they have problems with corruption. Ricardo says that Mexico has not been active in external affairs because it’s been distracted by its drug mafia. Richard H.: Our lack of a regional trade policy has been a mistake. We haven’t gone beyond NAFTA the ways that we should. NAFTA is one of the reasons Mexico’s economy survived the meltdown. And the next strategic area of partnership will be energy. Put together Canada, US, and Mexico and you get 18M barrels of oil a day.

Cuba? Ricardo: the poor people there are in a terrible situation. And the American blockade — an absurd thing — is the main reason. Castro would have been out a long time ago.

Q: What was your prior election — so close — like for osmeone in the private sector?

Ricardo: The election was so close because the PRI put forward a terrible candidate. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the Democratic REvolution Party candidate, did a good job as mayor of Mexico City, and would do fine as president.

Q: Landscape for emerging entrepreneurs?

Ricardo: A year ago we started a project for women entrepreneurs. In one year, we’re up to 900,000 women. Entrepreneurs tend to go underground because it’s too hard to be legal and pay taxes and social security. It’s complicated to set up a new business. Forms, taxes. We should simplify business for small corporations. Richard H. adds that it’s become simpler over the past few years.

Ricardo: People say we charge too much. But it’s for small amounts. 80% of $100 is only $80.

WI: That’s a lot.

Ricardo: For small loans, the transaction costs are high.

WI: ou need to fix that to get more entrepreneurship.

Ricardo: You fix it by making more credit available.

Ricardo: The govt has not made a level playing field for telecom companies. And how are we going to bridge the digital divide except via mobile?

Q: How’s the tourism business been affected?

Ricardo: You’re missing something good and you should go. Nothing bad will happen to you. They’re not going after tourists. Best golf in the world.

Q: Why is it still under travel advisory from the State Dept?

Haas: Some areas are more dangerous, e.g. Monterey. The State Dept. is conservative.

Ricardo: Mexico is a very large country. It’s totally different in different places.

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[aspen] The new professionalism

I’m at the Aspen Ideas Festival, at a panel on how professionalism has changed.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Reid Hoffman (chair of LinkedIn) says the concept of the professional has changed. It used to be something you got intensive training for, and then moved from apprentice to master within your chosen field. Now it means constantly learning, and adapting to changes in tech and business.

Deirdre Stanley is general counsel at Thomson Reuters (host of this panel). She says that professionalism used to mean meeting peer standards. Now she thinks about professionalism in terms of project ownership, problem solving, a defined end goal, and it’s left to your discretion how to reach that goal.

Susan Peters says GE thinks of professionals as problem solvers. They have 160,000 professionals around the world. It’s about how you do the problem solving. Do leaders create cultures, or do cultures create leaders, she asks.

Mark Penn, the pollster, says that professionals are the new middle class. 85% of Americans say they’re middle class. 54% say they’re professionals. This is the new backbone of the economy. We don’t recognize it enough. There’s not enough talk about making the professional sector as big, vibrate, and cutting edge as possible.

Moderator Heidi Moore says that professionalism is not seen as soulless and oppressed as in Dilbert and Office Space.

Reid: It’s called work because you wouldn’t do it if you weren’t paid for it. The key question: Tech is transforming industry, and tech requires new sets of skills. How do we invest in ourselves and our society? Purpose is an important element, but it’s also how you maintain a competitive edge in the skill set.

Mark: Many professionals don’t want to retire. 25% in an AARP poll said that they don’t want to retire because they like working.

Heidi: Because they feel like they’re working for themselves?

Susan: A cohort is drawn to mission-based work. And it’s the environment in which you’re doing it: the people you work with, the management structure, are you enabled to be a problem solver. At GE last summer we took 21 people from around the globe and had them spend time together, and tell us what you think GE needs to be like: who, where, how. They came up with 250 ideas E.g., a career navigation tool.

Deirdre: Not every company has the luxury to do that. Law students are not getting jobs. And of course not just law students. People have to learn new skills.

Heidi: What does the new professional look like? What should we be doing to manage our careers?

Reid: Think of yourself as the business of yourself. My skillset? How do I invest in myself? What’s your individual product market fit.

Mark: You need education and knowledge. And we need to prepare people for independent problem solving, which is what professionals do.

Deirdre: The proliferation of info affects professionals. 20 yrs ago, your doctor told you what’s wrong with you. Now, you google your symptoms and go to the doctor.

Susan: The organization has to do some forward thinking in helping people become problem solvers. People need to never stop evolving.

Reid: To be a professional, you have to take responsibility for your own evolution. That doesn’t mean the society and business shouldn’t provide the tools and environment to enable that. In Silicon Valley, there’s a lot of discussion about what people seeing about how companies are working; individuals need to do that also

Mark: Prof orgs needs to having training tracks, mentoring. Problem solving is best taught through mentorship. But it’s also about their social environment.

Heidi: Working at home?

Mark: The better the collaborative tools, the better the quality of work.

Reid: Startups are working on this. E.g., LiquidSpace, etc. You do have to have some high bandwidth in-person interactions. It’s going to be ablend.

Deirdre: Tech is accelerating this virtual environment, and also putting increased pressure on the professional. The ability to master the tools may change the profile of the professional. Also, the ability to work with many different sorts of people matters. And, yes, you need some in-person team-building.

Susan: It’s not the old demographic. It’s about the work space, about tech, and about connectedness. The old corporate structure, patterned on the military, is antiquated.

Reid: If you don’t find risk, risk finds you. This is because tech drives globalization. People say they want meaning and stability from their work. Adaptability is the new stability. You accomplish that by being able to take intelligent risks. That’s what entrepreneurs do well, which is why it’s important to become the entrepreneur of your own life. You can’t manage risk to zero. By learning how to be adaptive is how you manage risk in a modern professional career.

Deirdre: When you sit in a corporation, you see some areas growing and some not. If you’re an employee, you want to be in the growing part or in the group figuring out the strategy for the other areas.

Mark: 75% of voters have some college. 26% of two-income households make over $100K. The new prof class is much more pro-environment, much more socially tolerant. We currently have two professionals running for president.

Heidi: Yet all they talk about manufacturing jobs.

Mark: That’s because Ohio is a swing state. But we don’t have enough people to fill all the professional jobs. So why isn’t that the central focus of our economy?

Susan: We do need manufacturing in this country. The professionals in GE are helping to make those manufacturing jobs as advanced as possible. Our aircraft factories are very flat: an hourly worker can stop an assembly line. No foremen. The professional work class comes up with the ideas that brings the next product to be manufactured. GE is big enough that we can experiment. Eg., we’ve given some of our most senior people by giving them events outside of GE for 2-3 days. We send them to Silicon Valley, etc., to be out of their own context. Our research into 21st leaders shows that the people who make the best decisions are the ones with the best context — not just knowledge, but contacts wide in the world.

Heidi: I wake up early every morning and check Spanish bond deals. You have to be thinking about what’s happening around the world.

Reid: Use your network. In Silicon Valley we are constantly talking about “Have you seen…?”

Deirdre: There’s so much info that there may not always be the opportunity to step back and make informed decisions.

Reid: The books I read are the ones strongly recommended by my network.

Susan: Think about reflection. It’s an under leveraged aspect of what has to happen.

Q: You’ve been talking about changes individuals needs to make as professionals. I just spoke with student journalists all of whom are being taught very traditional ways of building a career. How do our higher ed institutions have to change.

Reid: Massively. Ivory towers worked better when there was less change in the world. Also, the dividing line between education and work is going the way of the dodo. You’re in permanent beta.

Mark: American professionals are pretty successful. We’re doing something right. Our system produces people who are the leading edge of change. I think we need more cultural change. Is it education or values that matters?

Heidi: Can we get a work ethic in a free-er culture?

Susan: The community does a great job with that. We’re getting peer evaluations: Who added the most value.

Heidi: Reverse mentoring?

Reid: For me the network is the mentor

Deirdre: At Thomson Reuters especially in diversity training we use reverse mentoring.

Susan: We do reverse mentoring, typically in the tech space.

Q: Many people are unprepared to be entrepreneurs. Shouldn’t public ed teach the basics of entrepreneurship?

Reid: Can it be taught? You can at least give people a grasp of the concepts.

Mark: It’s an important point. In the polls, American youth are becoming less entrepreneurial. They’re more interested in becoming professionals. Arab youth and Vietnamese are hotbeds of entrepreneurship.

Q: The future seems to take more time than we think. In the lifetimes of people here, what will professionalism look like?

Reid: The future is sooner and stranger than you think. I do think we’ll see more free agency; more network thinking, but orgs thinking about networks across boundaries; employment contracts will maintain relationships.

Susan: Some people will get very far very fast. It depends on the person and the product. You don’t want your aircraft engine to be totally freewheeling. Orgs will get more horizontal. People will have to become better all the time or they won’t make it; otherwise they’ll be selected out by their peers or mgt structure. You can’t be what you were.

Mark: We’re bad at predicting the future because we don’t understand the present. But AI will be important.

Heidi: Wall Street’s inability to adapt these days is like Mad Men: People who have an ideal of life they don’t want to change.

[me] Reid’s answers have generally been about being a good professional by using the Net. We have an idea of what a professional looks like in the real world. What does a professional look like on the Net?

Reid: There won’t really be a distinction between professionalism on the net and in life. About ten yrs ago, people said everyone would be blogging, but not everyone has those skills. Having a presence and an identity, being able to find info, to operate through these networks (public and private) will be an essential tool set to be able to operate effectively as a professional. E.g., search cna find all sorts of things, e.g., who ar the right people to talk to to figure things out, what should I be reading to figure out what’s going, etc.

Deirdre: Yes. E.g., knowing how to do Big Data.

[One of the unsaid things: To be professional used to imply a down-to-work, efficient attitude. Now we expect and encourage professionals to have the social skills — including a sense of humor — that enables them to succeed in social nets of all sorts.]

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Support Michael O’Connor Clarke

I saw my friend Michael O’Connor Clarke just about a month ago, after too many years of being cheered by his tweets, rather than by his in-personage. We were at the Mesh conference where Michael gave a paste in the face to traditional marketing in his normal insightful, laugh out loud fashion. He had to run home — he and his wife had tickets to Cirq du Soleil — so we caught up in a hurried conversation, which we were able to prolong because he offered to drop me off at the airport shuttle. He was, in his usual way, funny, frank, warm, and self-deprecating…terms not always associated with someone so driven by values and ideals.

This evening I’ve learned he has esophageal cancer. I cannot do better at expressing how I feel about Michael and about this news than my friend Doc has.

Michael is a devoted father of four, so some friends have started a fund for him . Please consider giving.


June 24, 2012

[2b2k] How much info per minute, per an infographic

There’s a fun infographic — and aren’t all infographics fun, one way or another? — at Visual News about how much information is made every minute.

It’s poorly sourced (a list of sources at the bottom without references to which data came from which sources, and no links, but, heck infographics are fun!), but let’s assume/pretend that it’s accurate. Beyond the pure massiveness of the amount of data, a couple of “facts” leap out (and these are especially unreliable since they probably come from different sources so the comparisons are likely to be apples to orangutans, but it’s all about putting the “fun” into infungraphics!):

  • There are three times as many tweets as Facebook Likes, even though one is just a no-thought reaction (and the other requires pressing the Like button — heyo! I kid Twitter ’cause I love it. I’ll be @dweinberger all week.)

  • There are 80x more posts on Tumblr than on WordPress

  • There are 2,000x more emails sent than Tweets posted, and 100x more emails sent than search queries received by Google. This seems plausible if I look at my own usage, but I’m old and thus more attached to email than are today’s Digital Youngsters with their IMs and their hiphop ringtones and 4Gs. Nope, email remains the volume leader in terms of number of units (as opposed to the number of bytes, which I cannot figure out).

Info fun! With air quotes around each of those two words!

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