The fate of the ‘moral economy’ lies squarely in the hand of software engineers – all the more reason to appreciate intangible value.
This month, the emerging Pirates party in Germany was able to garner 8.2% share of the votes in elections in the rural German state of Schleswig-Holstein. It was the latest manifestation of the broader civic protest sentiment sweeping through the West. Like Spain’s Los Indignados and Occupy Wall Street, the Pirates are a largely leaderless movement that has a shared purpose but no clearly articulated agenda. It is absorbing general dissatisfaction amongst citizens, but also, for the first time, asserting ‘transparency’ as a democratically legitimatized political platform. Four years after the Obama election, Hope has become a bottom-up vector. The Generation Meaning is assuming places of power but still has to figure out what exactly it is looking for.
Can social technology enable companies and the people within them to make better decisions? Can it improve corporate behavior? Can it perhaps even help restore the social contract between business and society? These are just some of the questions to be tackled by the “Reinvent Business” hackathon – a collaborative, rapid ideation and programming workshop – to be held in San Francisco on June 9-10, Hosted by frog and LRN, in partnership with BSR, Carnegie Mellon University, Dachis Group, Net Impact, Silicon Valley Bank, Fast Company, and the World Economic Forum, the two-day event will bring together software developers, designers, gamers, film makers, writers, business leaders, and other creative minds to imagine, design, and build a more human and truly social enterprise. The goal is both simple and bold: to develop concepts and prototypes for innovative products and services that have the capacity to transform business from within.
I walked a Formula One race track last fall in Abu Dhabi, in the blistering evening desert heat. The city of Abu Dhabi opens the track a couple of days a week for bikers and joggers. I, however, was walking, due to a lack of appropriate sportswear, gasping for air, and happy to make it through even just one round. It was a surreal experience, not only because I was the odd outlier amidst hundreds of bikers and joggers, but also because it turned the purpose of the race track on its head – as my own private 'slow movement' against the race of the machines, fundamentally opposing the design intent of the venue. It felt like a meditation that turned the split seconds which typically frame the Formula One drivers’ quasi-automated blink decisions into an extended once-in-a-lifetime moment.
Accelerated innovation and adoption of ubiquitous computing, mobile devices, and rich sources of data are changing how we live, work, and play in urban environments. Increasingly, a digital landscape overlays our physical world and is expanding to offer ever-richer experiences that augment—and in some cases, replace—the physical experience: “The city is the platform, the network, the sensors, and the interface,” as frog creative director Rob McIntosh put it in a recent talk.
My South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) experience began on the “nerdbird” – the flight from San Francisco to Austin. At high altitude and in even higher amplitude, the techies sitting a row behind me were speed-outsmarting each other, jumping from database mining, the UX challenge of creating a human-friendly pixel resolution, the myth of interferences for avionics, to the “stupid-smart Nathans” in their lives (sorry, guys, it was hard not to eavesdrop). I first listened with intrigue (because these guys were really, really smart, and I might as well just transcribe their conversation into a comprehensive SXSW summary post), but after a while I began to resist the unsolicited expertise, and browsing through the conference program I couldn’t help but think of my two favorite session titles this year: “Co-Founder Speed Dating” and “The Evolution of the Douchebag in Modern Cinema.” Giving up on my way-too-thin headphones, I craved an enclave that would offer asylum from the forced intimacy of all the power-chatter, a simple switch-off that would disconnect me from verbal deluge and provides some kind of digital refuge from the very human analogue conversation. With all the new services that enable ‘controlled serendipity,’ it seems ironic that social filtering assumes we constantly want to meet people. I wanted to un-meet. Now. And there was no app for that.
Following a year in which “people power” was the rallying cry from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street, the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting 2012 in Davos, which ended last Sunday, might seem like an elitist anachronism, but it is worth noting how the WEF over the past few years has tried in earnest to include voices from civil society as well as younger generations – from new, very active communities within the WEF such as the Young Global Leaders and the Global Shapers to – this year – even Occupy Davos. The result: As a “platform for multi-stakeholder dialogue between business, society, and politics” (in the words of WEF founder and executive chairman Professor Klaus Schwab), the WEF is more relevant than ever (full disclosure: I am a member of the WEF Global Agenda Council on Values in Decision-Making).
In light of the Arab Spring and the rise of India and China, and propelled by social technologies, the concept of ‘soft power’ (the phrase was coined by Joseph Nye in his 1990 book, Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power; defined as “the ability to obtain what one wants through co-option and attraction”) is ever more relevant. Or, in marketing terms, Push is out, Pull is in. If an idea, aspiration, product, goal, ideology, culture, narrative, or national identity is attractive to its constituents, it minimizes the need for constant reinforcement and regulation – whether that is advertising, promotions, and other persuasive efforts, or bureaucracy, command-and-control, and coercion. Pull is powerful (as John Hagel illustrates in his riveting book The Power of Pull). It has a lot of Pull (pun intended) because one doesn’t have to push. It saves energy that can be invested otherwise, for example, in whatever “it” is that creates Pull. No surprise then that individuals, organizations, societies, and entire nations wish they could rely on it more.
frog is delighted to be a partner of the India Design Forum, which will take place in New Delhi on March 9-10, 2012, with the goal of bringing the international discourse on design to India.
The IDF will comprise of a Design Trail (March 2-10, 2012) featuring public exhibitions, workshops, and perfomances in the heart of New Delhi, as well as a two-day conference (March 9-10, 2012). The speaker line-up includes architects Rem Kohlhaas and Thomas Heatherwick, MoMA curator Paola Antonelli, luxury designer Christian Louboutin, Adam Bly from Seed Media, Tom Dixon, and Karim Rashid, among many others.
My colleagues Jan Chipchase and Robert Fabricant, and I will speak at the conference, and frog will also throw an after-party on March 9 in Delhi.
The IDF founders Rajshree Pathy and Mitra Khoubrou envision the event to be an open, cross-disciplinary conversation between designers to identify the elements that define contemporary design in India. The IDF is conceived of as a platform to improve India’s access to the global design community and help it become a leader in shaping the global design agenda.
Rotman magazine, the print and online quarterly of the Rotman School of Management, has just released its new (Winter) issue, devoted to the theme “Open.” Openness has been a buzzword for a while, ever since Henry Chesbrough wrote his seminal book on Open Innovation, but, to apply Gartner’s Hype-Cycle terminology, now it seems as if Openness has finally reached a plateau of productivity after going through years of troughs of disillusion.
The current economic crisis presents an opportunity to realign our collective moral compass. First, by understanding the values that underlie our economies. Second, by reconciling the agendas of business with the true needs of individuals.
Clearly, the bond between society and business is broken, and the legitimacy of companies is at a new low point. Movements such as Occupy Wall Street express a growing indignation over the disconnect between the perks for a few and the rights of many. When Harvard undergraduate students stage a walkout of an Economics 101 class in sympathy with the Occupy movement to protest the ‘corporatization’ of education, it might indeed indicate the beginning of a “New Progressive Movement.” It is not just the redistribution of wealth that’s being scrutinized, however. What citizens, in the U.S. and elsewhere, demand are new, more collaborative and inclusive models of value creation that produce meaning as much as profits.