Fat people & billionaires

Before the storm that we neither predicted nor prepared for

I started reading Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan in May last year.  I took it to the Delfest music festival where we’d been promised bluegrass and sunshine.  A hurricane tore down the camp and flooded the fields.  The book sank in the swamp, was bravely rescued, and has since dried out.  I started reading it again the other day.

Taleb’s central thesis is that we are much worse at predicting events than we think we are.  In fact we massively overestimate our capacity for prediction. Continue reading Fat people & billionaires

These exponential times

Faster innovation. More churn? But no egalitarian paradise.

1.  A plummeting Coasean floor means we can do more things outside of traditional organizations like businesses.

Here’s a question that I try not to ask in earshot of my bosses.  Instead of employing me on a salary, why don’t my firm put out a tender for every piece of work I deliver?  In an open market, with other people competing to perform broken down chunks of my job, my company could end up paying less.  Reassuringly for me, Ronald Coase explained why in The Nature of the Firm in 1937.  It is because of the additional transaction costs that my firm would incur – in particular of finding a contractor and enforcing a contract for every piece of work I currently undertake. We can describe these kinds of costs as the cost of cooperating.   Companies exist in order to manage these cooperation costs.  They do things like employ managers and pay for HR departments  – and create, for the most part, hierarchical organizational structures – because, for the activities that they’re engaged in, this is a more effective way of directing a workforce than an open market.  But of course this management has a cost, much of it fixed.  Firms exist, therefore, when the costs of employing and directing staff to undertake a particular activity are less than the potential gain from that activity.

But what if those cooperation costs exceed the potential gain of an activity?  Continue reading These exponential times

Stolen from the greatest HR policy PowerPoint ever made

Yearning for the vast and endless sea.

Any company should by now have learnt that its customers can talk about them, to massive effect, without their permission.  (As the HuffPo says here, it is kind of a leap of logic to think that United Breaks Guitars lost the company 10% of its market capitalisation, but it certainly wasn’t good for them.)  But today we can also pretty effectively organise without their permission.  Continue reading Stolen from the greatest HR policy PowerPoint ever made

I may be a latte drinking liberal but I respect Massachusetts’ voters

Latte drinking, Guardian reading liberal

I tweeted on Friday that I was profoundly dismayed with democracy in America.  I was called out on this by one of my friends, who accused me of being a latte drinking, Guardian reading liberal and, I suspect his point was, of not respecting the will of the people in Massachusetts.  He’s got at least three points right there, but he’s not right about the last one.  And it’s an important point to respond to because actually I’m excited by the lessons that the will of the people taught us in Massachusetts.  I think they’ve confirmed our exit from the twentieth century. Continue reading I may be a latte drinking liberal but I respect Massachusetts’ voters

Liberals shouldn’t slam Facebook

TV rots your brain

Every Christmas I like to have an argument with my mum, usually about technology, and usually conducted like an irregular serial – picked up several times over the course of the holiday.  In previous years my Christmas technology arguments have been about kitchen appliances; can you believe we still don’t have a microwave or a dishwasher?  Next Christmas it has got to finally be about the pitiful size of our TV, a debate that was this time sidelined by 2009’s topic: social networking.

In a car ride to visit grandma, mum passes this article by Julia Neuberger over to the back seat. (Her producing articles from the Guardian, often snipped out and left on my bed, is a feature of our arguments.)  Essentially Baroness Neuberger had summarised what my mum thinks:  that social networking is making us less social by wrapping us in a virtual world and isolating us from ‘real’ relationships.

This is of course bunk. Continue reading Liberals shouldn’t slam Facebook

I’m a better person because of Facebook (we all are)

DebateAP2202_468x355Pretty much anybody I meet I try to friend on Facebook.  I’m friends with my dad, I’m friends with some kids I used to teach, my colleagues, my uni friends, school friends, some people I’ve only ever met once, and I’m sure I’m friends with some people I don’t actually like.

Let me quickly say this is not a post about how you should use Facebook.  There are legitimate conversations to be had about how we should interact with each other online.  But you miss the point if you debate things like how many friends you ‘should’ have on Facebook (what portion of your social graph you should friend).  The internet is almost defined by the fact that we are able to use the tools that emerge in – often unexpected – ways that most suit us. Continue reading I’m a better person because of Facebook (we all are)