Saul Kaplan: What Technology Wants

Click here to review and purchase

It’s rare that a book so enhances your world-view that you think the author has taken up residence in your head.  Henceforth What Technology Wants shall be known as my new playbook for understanding technology.  It’s a must read for innovation junkies trying to sort the infinite possibilities of the 21stcentury.  Many have tried to help us understand the meaning of technology.  Few get below the buzzwords.

What Technology Wants captures the essence of our technological revolution and provides a lens to understand its origins. It provides a unique view from technology’s perspective shedding light on what technology wants and where it can take us.  It’s a call to action reminding us of the opportunity and responsibility to remake our world in a way that deeply honors technologic potential around us. I expected the book to be great. Kevin Kelly has been an innovation hero of mine dating back to his days as the founding editor of WIRED. Every story during Kevin’s tenure at the magazine was a voice from the future that seemed to be speaking directly to me.  It was a thrill to spend an entire day with Kevin when he came to the Business Innovation Factory recently to discuss What Technology Wants.  Talk about being a kid in a candy store.  My head is still spinning.

Kevin Kelly’s visit and book discussion stretched my thinking in both comfortable and uncomfortable ways.  Let’s start with the comfortable leap.  Kelly clearly asserts that humans are the evolutionary conduit connecting the cosmos, bios, and technos.  He paints a compelling narrative arc asserting that the concentric creation stories of the universe, life, and the man-made world all share the same inexorable evolutionary path.  I now know what Stephen Johnson meant by taking a long zoom view. Kelly traces the four billion year history of life through transitions marked by ever-increasing complexity of information flows. From molecules to single-cell organisms to language based societies to writing and printing to agriculture to scientific method, to mass production to ubiquitous global communication.  It’s all one grand evolutionary arc and we are center stage.

Saul KaplanI have always been fascinated by biomimicry, a design discipline that emulates or takes inspiration from nature to solve human problems.  In What Technology Wants, Kelly helps us make the connections and intellectual leap necessary to see evolution as a connecting process, seamlessly working its magic across both the natural and man-made world.  Technology doesn’t just mimic nature it’s a natural evolutionary extension of the human mind, which in turn is a direct extension of our cosmic beginnings.  Kelly invites us to become one with technology.  It’s a far easier invitation to accept knowing we share a common evolutionary process and limitless opportunities to explore the adjacent possible together.

The leap I am less comfortable with and still trying to process is Kelly’s assertion that there is an inherent direction to the evolutionary process. He claims evolution is a predictable process with predetermined tendencies. His argument isn’t theological but science based.  It’s enough to make your head explode.  Kelly claims there is an aspect of structural inevitability or predetermined outcomes built into the evolutionary process.  He suggests that if somehow we could replay four billion years of evolutionary process over again we would see roughly the same outcomes.  How can that be? The notion goes against everything I am wired to believe.  I grew up incessantly arguing with my mom, who must have said a million times, if it is meant to be it will be.  To which I always countered in full-throated argument, the only things meant to be are things we make happen.  I never bought into mom’s fatalistic life view preferring the self-deterministic outlook that has shaped my life.

And yet What Technology Wants advances a compelling argument that complex adaptive systems will converge into recurring solutions given enough time.  Kelly is claiming that evolution is reproducible.  He sites the convergent evolution of eyesight as evidence. Evolutionary biologists have determined that a camera like eye evolved not just once but independently six times over the course of life on Earth.  It seems that eyesight is an inevitable evolutionary outcome not a random event. Many other examples are highlighted in the book pointing to similar evolutionary convergence across the natural world including flapping wings which evolved independently three times in birds, bats, and pterodactyls.

Read the rest of…
Saul Kaplan: What Technology Wants

Liz Roach: Chocolate Liaisons

RoachAh, chocolate. The albatross of Valentine’s Day.  Snarky online articles will chide you for taking the easy route of buying your lover such clichés as flowers or a heart shaped box of sweets.  But let’s be honest.  Chocolate is pretty amazing.  As the poet Rita Dove wrote about the treat, “dark punch/ of earth and night and leaf, / for a taste of you/ any woman would gladly/ crumble to ruin.”  Who would turn up their nose at that?

If you’re starting to squirm over what to lavish upon your valentine, relax.  Whether it’s a friend, sweetheart, or family member, most people’s hearts are warmed more by a thoughtful tidbit than by an outlandishly expensive trinket.  And you can make your offering that much more meaningful by taking the few minutes to whip it up yourself.

Don’t worry. I haven’t chosen something complicated or time-consuming.  We’re going with classic chocolate truffles.  Sound boring? Not when you taste them.  And here’s the best part: they only require four ingredients, unless you get crazy with the toppings.  And you may want to, because it’s pretty fun.  Chopped nuts offer a savory balance, or for a pop of color and unexpected flavor, try pink Himalayan sea salt or pomegranate seeds.  With any luck, your amour will be as smitten as Rita Dove.  Assuming you don’t eat them all yourself first.

 

Liz RoachChocolate Truffles

Ingredients:

1 pound dark chocolate chips

3/4 cup of heavy whipping cream

1/4 cup of bourbon or liqueur (I used Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream liqueur)

Coatings: Chopped almonds or hazelnuts; cocoa powder; pomegranate seeds; pink sea salt

 

Directions:

  1. Melt chocolate in top of a double boiler over simmering water.
  2. Gradually stir in cream.
  3. Gradually add bourbon, stirring gently to blend.
  4. Cover and chill overnight.
  5. Once chilled, shape the mixture into balls, and roll them in your chosen topping.

 

(adapted from Bounty of Biltmore Cookbook by Whitney Wheeler Pickering)

Julie Rath: Sweater Wearing for Non-Sweater Wearers

With the cold weather here (and here to stay), it’s time to consider the sweater. In case you missed it, my advice was referenced in an excellent Wall Street Journal article about how to incorporate sweaters into your look. Even if you’re not typically a sweater-wearer, don’t click away just yet. I’m not talking about the basic sweater-over-a-dress-shirt look — anyone can do that. It’s the non-typical ways to wear knits that I’m interested in. Below are 5 ways to use sweaters to add a fresh spin to your look:

Men's Style Advice: Sweaters

1) Jacket alternative with a casual outfit a.k.a. swacket (sweater-jacket combo) – Leave the North Face in the closet and put on a a chunky sweater instead. As I’ve mentioned before, outerwear is key to pulling together an effective outfit, as it sets the tone for your look. And wearing a sweater as outerwear is a great way to mix things up. The cardigan above from J. Crew is an excellent option (similar here) is an excellent option, as is this one from Billy Reid, which is lined the same way a regular jacket is and therefore provides good protection from the elements.

 

Men's Style Advice: Sweaters

2) Cardigan worn as a sport coat – In lieu of a sportcoat, wear a shawl collar cardigan like the one above from Suit Supply with a dress shirt and tie. This is a smart look for a cozy evening holiday party. You can also add a tailored menswear vest for further visual interest and warmth.

Men's Style Advice: Sweaters3) Vest worn over shirt and tie – This is a nice choice when it’s not cool enough for a full-sleeved sweater like in #2. Above is another option from Suit Supply which shows how to do this. The teal blue sweater paired with the rust orange pants is a solid Fall color combo. Leave the bottom button undone as you would with a regular menswear vest.

Men's Style Advice: Sweaters4) Sweater in place of dress shirt – This is a very sophisticated look, especially when done tone-on-tone as in the runway image above from Valentino (the model also has a grey scarf tucked into the sweater).

Men's Style Advice: Sweaters

5) Thin cardigan under suit or sportcoat – On days where it’s not quite cold enough for an overcoat over your suit/sportcoat, throw on a cardigan as an in-between layer. If you want to try this look, make sure that the cardigan is thin and try leaving the top and bottom buttons open for a less “done” look as in the above image.

Two additional notes…

-Because wearing sweaters can get hot indoors, it’s key to dress in layers which can be easily removed and replaced. The above looks work well in this way, as they each have pieces that can be removed and added back as needed.

-Bear in mind that because knitwear has texture, it’s inherently going to impart a casual feel to your look. The less textured the sweater is, the more dressy it will be. So if you’re wearing one of these looks for work but don’t want to be too dressed down, make sure it’s a fine knit with a smooth surface to it.

Sweaters can often feel stuffy and “old,” but if you try them in new and unconventional ways as above, you’ll breathe new life into your look. 

How are you wearing sweaters this season?

Josh Bowen: The Anti-Resolution Solution

joshI Choose

2015 is here. Have you started on your resolutions? Have you already given up on your resolutions? Whichever boat you are in, I would like to share with you my mantra for 2015. With a brief description of what each eloquent line means to me.

Warning! Motivation and inspiration may ensue. Enter at your own risk.

I Choose

To live by choice, not by chance,

We all have choices in this world and by all accounts we are judged by those choices; good, bad or indifferent. Make choices that add value to your life. Be with people who make you better and rid yourself of those that bring you down. Don’t want for things to happen, make things happen.

To be motivated, not manipulated,

Ultimately you are motivated or you are not. There is no one foot in and one foot out. Either you do it or you don’t. And by such we cannot be conned or fooled into living our lives for someone else. We are unique in our decisions and should hold our ground when making them. Be you and don’t let others sway your judgment or motivation.

To be useful, not used,

We are meant to add value to other’s lives, not be used for our unique talents and genuine generosities.

To make changes, not excuses,

Change can be scary. It is a place outside our comfort zone. However, it is important to make change when change is need. It is not important to make excuses for why you can’t doing something because you are scared to change.

To excel, not compete.

Life is about wins and losses. You win some, you lose some. The only competition is the person in the mirror. Only make comparisons to the person you use to be versus the person you are.

I choose self-esteem, not self-pity,

Confidence and the self belief in one’s ability will drive you further in life than feeling sorry for yourself when life doesn’t go you way. Live to fight another day and be thankful to be able too.

I choose to listen to my inner voice, not the random opinions of others.

Your gut will never lie to you. Your heart will, your brain will and your eyes will but never you gut. It is your inner voice that knows all. Always listen to it. It will always tell you to keep pushing and make headway. That anything is possible and all the doubters are wrong.

I choose to do the things that you won’t, so I can continue to do the things you can’t.

The choice to get up early, work late, workout when everyone is asleep, eat broccoli instead of French fries is all ours. We can chose to make the sacrifices necessary to be extraordinary, it is up to us. Do what others won’t so you can continue to do what others can’t.

Lauren Mayer: Stupidity Can Be Bipartisan

Even though I am an unabashedly liberal political satirist, I have immense respect for any efforts at bipartisanship.  (I was a competitive debater in high school and college, where we had to argue both sides of any given topic, and it was great training not just for politics but for marriage . . . . but I digress.)  Which is why I’ve always been proud to contribute to this site whose whole foundation is to encourage bipartisan discourse.

However, my admiration for seeing both sides of an issue has largely been theoretical.  On the issues that matter to me, from women’s reproductive choice to marriage equality to the environment to income inequality, I have had a very hard time seeing any validity to the arguments on the opposing side.  And when that opposing side is based on a wholesale denial of facts, evidence, and science, it’s even harder to remain balanced.

However, an issue has recently come up where science denial originated on the left – the ant-vaccination movement.  And while a few right-wingers have made idiotic, pandering remarks about parental choice, or a ‘temporal link’ between vaccines and autism, just as many diehard conservatives have come down squarely on the side of science.  Who knew we’d find a subject on which Hillary Clinton and Ben Carson express the same point of view?

So for a change, the sarcasm and disdain in my political satire song is aimed equally at Democrats and Republicans who persist in willful ignorance:

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: The benefits of NOT “Copping an attitude “

jyb_musingsA few weeks ago I was joking with a friend about my shirt sleeves always swallowing my hands unless I rolled them up. He suggested a website called “The Modest Man” which I checked out and it turns out that “Modest man” is really a euphemism for, well, “Miniature man” The website features clothing suggestions for short (or “short-er ” as they put it) men, i.e. men 5 ‘8 and under.

Welll, I was ticked! Offended and hurt. Was he suggesting I was a “short man” who needed special sized clothing? Why not just tell me to shop in the “Little Boys” section? 

5 ‘8 and under! What was my friend thinking? After all, I stand a full 5 feet 8 1/2 inches tall! (And if you want to be really precise, I am actually 5 feet and 9/16th inches tall, which rounds-up easily to 5 ‘9.) So, yeah, I’m actually much taller than the 5 ‘8 cut-off for men’s clothing lines for the smaller man.

But as the week wore on I kept going back to the website. When no one could see what I was looking at on my computer. And there were a lot of links to men’s clothing lines for these slighter, more diminutive or “modest men.” Unlike me.

Then I began comparing my reaction — the umbrage I was taking to my friend’s suggestion — to a similar incident last year when a different friend suggested I drop some weight and I defensively reassured myself he was way out of line since the BMI level for “Obesity” starts at 30 and I was checking in with a mere 29.5 BMI. (He turned out to be right. And I took his advice despite my initial denial.)

I kept going back to the website and finally — and very secretly — bought a shirt. Just to see (mostly out of intellectual curiousity) what the shirt would be like. Would it make me feel even shorter? Self -conscious? Ashamed? Like my feet may not touch the ground when I sat in a chair?

Actually, something very different happened. The “modestly” (or “acurately,” as I prefer) tailored shirt made me feel none of the things I feared. I just — for the first time in my life -was wearing a casual shirt with sleeves that didn’t swallow my hands without me rolling them up.

And, frankly, it made me feel pretty good. In fact, it even made me feel about an inch taller, too. Not that I needed it, mind you!

After all, I am already too tall for this kind of specialized clothing. But I’m glad I didn’t let my copping a negative attitude initially keep me from eventually having an open mind –and shirt sleeves that actually fit me.

Even though I am not going to tell anybody, I am probably going to buy another shirt at some point. Maybe a sweater, too.

And may recommend the website to a friend who is 5 ‘8 3/4 –which is even taller than me.

Erica and Matt Chua: All in the family

We think we know our family, that our parents have been honest in who you’re related to and who you’re not.  That is until the day you meet a member that you had no idea existed, even more surprising if it’s in an out-of-the-way place such as Borneo, but it happened.  I was standing with my camera at attention in a wildlife sanctuary, when suddenly out of the trees swung my distant cousin.  As soon as I saw her eyes I knew, I could see she recognized it too, we stood staring at each other.  Breaking the awkward moment was her daughter, reaching from her arms, offering me a piece of fruit.

Sadly, due to linguistic differences we were unable to discuss our shared history, sort out when her family moved to Sarawak and how we were related.  Sure, we had some differences, she’s much hairier than anyone in my family, has longer arms, and clearly superior tree climbing abilities, but the face, just look, chubby cheeks and all; we’re related.  I did some research and was able to find out about her family, or should I say our family, the hominids, and our similarities.  We all use tools, interact socially, enjoy eating fruits, and have similar reproductive terms (9 months in the womb, 22-30 days menstruation).  While my city life is fundamentally different than theirs, there are definitely people living in the Indonesian archipelago, even Borneo itself, that live similar nomadic lives in the jungle, wearing little, and enjoying the fruits of the wild.  It is hard to consider the realities of the Orangutans and not believe that we’re related.

Even though we’re in the same family, we’re driving the Orangutans to extinction.  In our lifetime we may see them go functionally extinct, surviving only in captivity, or there may be none at all.  For animals that we’re so closely related to, that we’ve shared earth for millions of years with, this is disturbing.  Just like people do with outcasts from their more direct family, billions of people are determined to ignore the overwhelming evidence that we’re related.  While claims that we were related to animals seemed incredulous in a world we knew little about, it’s ridiculously simple-minded to hold those beliefs today.  We’re now able to travel the world and see it ourselves, connect-the-dots, and understand the relations between animals.  It was once possible to live in a world of only what is immediately around you, but knowledge is fully accessible, travel is relatively accessible, and we can see with our own eyes what it took millennia to understand: we’re just part of an interconnected, related animal world.  With this knowledge comes the responsibility to do something to protect the planet from ourselves.

Read the rest of…
Erica and Matt Chua: All in the family

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: The Advantages of Having an MBA

jyb_musingsYesterday morning I found myself at Goodwill looking for a sports jacket to purchase that I had donated last week thinking it was a different — and much older– sports jacket that no longer fit me rather than the new sports jacket I bought as a present for myself over Christmas.

I was even willing to “buy back” my sports jacket –but still was going to be shrewd about it. After all, it was Goodwill and I did make the mistake of donating the wrong sports jacket but I was not willing to pay full price and was going to explain to the manager what happened and ask for a discount under the circumstances. I was even going to point out, if I needed to, that I didn’t take a “Donation Receipt” last week to declare a tax deduction when I donated the wrong sports jacket. 

This is called “pre- planning” and “postioning” in negotiation strategy and is always important to do in every kind of negotiation. I figured it would probably be on sale for between $60 and $75 dollars but I had decided beforehand that my starting offer to buy back my sportsjacket would be $20 and the absolute most I was willing to pay for it was $40. In negotiating tactics this is called your “anchor price” for beginning a negotiation and your “walk away price” or your “best and final offer” (or BAFO).

I was really pleased with myself that I was remembering all of these important negotiating strategies from a course titled “Negotiations” that I took over a decade ago while pursuing my MBA. And I was grateful I had such a great professor for that class, Dr Tom Byrd at Bellarmine University.

Unfortunately, Dr Byrd never told us to avoid putting ourselves into really stupid negotiating situations like the one I had gotten myself into. That would have been really helpful to me now–even more helpful than all the great negotiating tactics he taught us. I think I’ll suggest Dr Byrd include this pointer about avoiding dumb negotiating situations for his future classes.

As it turned out Goodwill no longer had my sports jacket. But I would have been ready to negotiate adroitly for it if they had. And apparently someone got a really good deal on a nice new sports jacket before I could buy it back at a discounted price applying what I had learned in my Negotiations MBA class.

But to tell you the truth, I now wish I had taken the course in “Bargain Shopping” instead of that silly negotiations course.

Saul Kaplan: Business Models Aren’t Just For Business

 

During my six years as an accidental bureaucrat, after spending twenty-five years in the private sector, my friends often wondered how I could do it. They routinely asked versions of the question: doesn’t government move too slowly for you? My standard reply was that, yes, the public sector moves slowly – but then, big companies don’t move so quickly either. And come to think of it, I teased my friends in higher education, colleges and universities move more slowly than either business or government! The point is, all institutions move slowly.

What surprised me wasn’t how slowly the different institutions moved, but the different language, behavior, secret handshakes, and views of each other I found across sectors. Xenophobia runs rampant within public, private, non-profit, and for-profit silos. Each silo has created its own world completely foreign to inhabitants from other sectors. Visiting emissaries are always viewed with skepticism. (”I’m from the government and I’m here to help …”)

One epiphany from my immersion into the non-private sector is how strenuously social sector organizations resist the notion they have a “business model”. Non-profits, government agencies, social enterprises, schools, and NGOs consistently proclaim that they aren’t businesses, and therefore business rules don’t apply.

Well, I’m sorry to break the news, but if an organization has a viable way to create, deliver, and capture value, it has a business model. It doesn’t matter whether an organization is in the public or private sector. It doesn’t matter if it’s a non-profit or a for-profit enterprise. All organizations have a business model. Non-profit corporations may not be providing a financial return to investors or owners, but they still capture value to finance activities with contributions, grants, and service revenue. Social enterprises may be mission-driven, focused on delivering social impact versus a financial return on investment, but they still need a sustainable model to scale. Government agencies are financed by taxes, fees, and service revenue, but are still accountable to deliver citizen value at scale.

Saul KaplanThe idea that business models are just for business is just wrong. Any organization that wants to be relevant, to deliver value at scale, and to sustain itself must clearly articulate and evolve its business model. And if an organization doesn’t have a sustainable business model, its days are numbered.

It may be, however, that the model is implicit rather than explicit. It’s amazing how few organizations can clearly articulate their business model. Can yours? If you ask any ten people in your organization how it creates, delivers, and captures value, will the answers even be close?

If not, it’s probably because, in the industrial era when business models seldom changed and everyone played the game by the same set of well-understood industry and sector rules, it wasn’t as important to be explicit about business models. Business models were safely assumed and taken for granted.

That won’t work in the 21st century when all bets are off. Business models don’t last as long as they used to. New players are rapidly emerging, enabled by disruptive technology, refusing to play by industrial era rules. Business model innovators aren’t constrained by existing business models. Business model innovation is becoming the new strategic imperative for all organization leaders.

Perhaps the most important reason for developing common business model language across public, private, non-profit, and for-profit sectors is that transforming our important social systems (including education, health care, energy, and entrepreneurship) will require networked business models that cut across sectors. We need new hybrid models that don’t fit cleanly into today’s convenient sector buckets. We already see for-profit social enterprises, non-profits with for-profit divisions, and for-profit companies with social missions. Traditional sector lines are blurring. We’re going to see every imaginable permutation and will have to get comfortable with more experimentation and ambiguity.

Read the rest of…
Saul Kaplan: Business Models Aren’t Just For Business

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Slacker Pre-Ks

10947255_10155178060515515_8208789143798866003_nI think we may have a new scapegoat for our economic woes: Slacker Pre K’s.

When I read this headline last week my first thought was, “For what?” What are the challenges our Pre-K’s aren’t ready for that they will be facing in Kindergarten? Finger painting?

Maybe it has been too long since I was in kindergarten and they are now including Algebra and chemistry and a foreign language along with the standard fare I took.

But I talked to my sister who has taught kindergarten in the public schools for over 20 years (and who last year was nominated by our President as one of our nation’s best kindergarten teachers) and she explained to me that although things have changed and much more is expected of kindergarteners these days, they do not take algebra, chemistry or a foreign language.

Maybe I am wrong but it seems like the headline last week should have read “Parents of kindergarteners ‘Not Ready.'” I think it is wonderful –and vitally important –how parents are so involved and concerned these days about their children being “ready” for pre-school, middle school, high school and college but I also think that we as a society have gone overboard.

I recently joked with a young couple who are expecting that I had heard of a new Lamaze class that included instruction tapes played in the background for “In vitro SAT and ACT prep.” They didn’t know whether to laugh or ask how to enroll. And that is unfortunate, in my opinion.

jyb_musingsSo, no, I am not calling our 4 and 5 year olds as the new national scapegoat we can use to blame for “American decline.” In fact, just the opposite. I think our 4 and 5 year olds, if left to learn and do everything important in life for 4 and 5 year olds to learn and do (like making friends,making up games, listening to and telling stories, running during recess, building a fort in the den, learning basic language and math skills and how to say “please” and “thank you” during “Juice and Cookie” time (and all the other “Everythings We Need to Know in Life” that we learn in kindergartern — then I think our country will be in great hands 30 ot 40 years from now.

And hands, by the way, that will also know how to fingerpaint. Which matters a lot more than grown-ups these days seem to understand.

Footnote: I want to clarify that this post is a riff on what I “assumed” the headline pictured was referring to. The actual story is not about hyper-parening and instead discusses the many real challenges our kindergartners face. I don’t mean to diminish those concerns in any way. I was just using the headline as a vehicle/excuse to commenting on hyper parenting not the actual story.

The Recovering Politician Bookstore

     

The RP on The Daily Show

Sign Up For The RP's Email List!

*