Observer, strategist, and creative matchmaker

My wife has finally found a way to summarize what I do as a job. I find explaining what you do in less than thirty seconds one of the hardest thing for an entrepreneur, there is so much you want to tell people, so many ideas and directions. Happy to finally have a summary.

I am an observer, strategist, and creative matchmaker for industry leaders, start-ups, policy makers, designers, and developers; guiding them through the intricacies of emerging technologies and the larger social and economic changes that shape them.

I work with clients and projects in many different domains – entrepreneurship, finance, media, technology, retail – and facilitate the sharing of ideas, experience, and knowledge that lead to innovative action and new collaborative projects.

I am the founder of Lift, Switzerland’s first ideas conference on the subject of innovation, technology, and society.

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Corporations made the Harlem shake go viral

The story is always the same on the web. Something new is invented. Early adopters invade that new space. For a while they have an advantage on everybody else, even deep pocketed corporations. Then marketing departments slowly learn how to use the new medium, and soon take over it. The recent Harlem shake meme is a good example:

The advertisers and agencies who spent the week after the Super Bowl looking for the next big thing in social media spent the weekend after the Super Bowl believing they had found it: because of the tweets by Maker and Mad Decent, they started copying the Florida longboarders [Harlem shake], believing it to be a pure product of the YouTube community. On Sunday, Feb. 10, these companies started posting and promoting their own “Harlem Shake” videos. They included College Humor , a website owned by IAC , a publicly traded company that also owns Newsweek; Vimeo , a YouTube rival also owned by IAC; and BuzzFeed […]. Thousands of “Harlem Shake” videos were uploaded during the week of Feb. 11, many of them from businesses with something to sell. […]

“Harlem Shake,” was a meme made by an amateur, George Miller, but its rapid replication was driven by media and marketing professionals, led and orchestrated by three companies: Maker Studios, Mad Decent, and IAC.

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Robots will make Chinese workers expensive

A very dense article on Quartz on how robots are eating the last of America’s—and the world’s—traditional manufacturing jobs. Lots of small sentences with deep implications. To start with one of the conclusions, robots are good news for developed countries as they will allow them to “re-shore” manufacturing capacities.

Already, China is losing jobs to countries with even lower wages. But eventually, “you run out of places to chase the [cheap] labor,” says Rodney Brooks, chief technology officer of Rethink Robotics. While he believes that this means that eventually, rich countries will be forced to “re-shore” manufacturing capacity that they have sent overseas, it applies equally to developing countries: At some point, an aging population and ever-cheaper robots means that China’s factories will look a lot more like those in Japan, Germany and the US.

Other interesting bits: an increasing number of workers’s jobs are to enable machines to work:

“Maddie,” is an unskilled laborer, or a “Level 1,” whose job it is to place parts into a machine that performs a particular operation on them without any adjustment from a human. […] Maddie’s job, like that of all Level 1′s, is “machine tending.” She merely enables a machine to work.

Beside manufacturing, some intellectual jobs are also being replaced by softwares and robots:

In 1979, the four middle-skill occupations—sales, office and administrative workers, production workers, and operators—accounted for 57.3 percent of employment. In 2007, this number was 48.6 percent, and in 2009, it was 45.7 percent. […] what’s happened to manufacturing is also happening to what economist Andrew McAfee calls routine cognitive workers, everyone from office secretaries who have been displaced by productivity software to librarians who lost their jobs to Google Search

Robots have the potential to bring jobs back to developed countries, but we are not talking about that many jobs…

While Baxter might bring manufacturing back to the US, “it’s not clear it will bring a lot of manufacturing jobs back to the US.” Even if robots could help bring jobs back to rich countries like the US, manufacturing is already so automated that the number of jobs that could be gained in that process would be “modest.”

There are two distinct ways in which you can read this article:

  • Glass half full: we lost manufacturing jobs to China anyway. At least robots will bring *some* back home. Robots will free us from repetitive, dull tasks and allow workers to concentrate only on more value adding jobs (unless workers are only “machine tending”).
  • Glass half empty: robots will steal an increasing number of jobs, first in manufacturing, then routine cognitive jobs, then the more complex knowledge based jobs. See for example: UBS fires trader, replaces him with computer algorithm.

I’m an optimist, I believe in the glass half full view. But as with most radical changes, the problem is not the direction we are taking, it is the transition to get there. In the short term, unemployment will rise as jobs are transitioned to machines, while workers are not trained to take on the more qualified and creative tasks that are left.

IUM, next generation online dating from Asia

It’s time to copy Asian innovation! Many think Chinese and Koreans are busy adapting American ideas to their local market. Truth is, Asia is much more innovative than the rest of the world when it comes to consumer internet. After the social networks challenging Facebook, here is another innovation I would copy in a second if I was looking to start a new online business:

ium [is] an online dating site with a new twist: you get matched with one person per day. Once you see your matches profile, you can make a decision whether you are interested. If both parties say yes, contact information is exchanged. If one or both parties say no, you have to wait until the next day. […¨

The site boasts 90,000 registered users and is currently profitable. What’s the profit model? In order to actually say “yes” to a match, you must pay a fee of 3,300 won ($3) each time you wish to do so. Subscriptions are also available at 9,900 won ($9) and 14,900 won ($13), giving you the opportunity to say yes for 14 and 30 days respectively.

Link on Seoul Space

Skills lacking in most serial entrepreneurs

Four distinct skills lacking in most serial entrepreneurs: empathy, managing themselves and their time, planning and organizing, and analytical problem solving.

I’m sure this will comfort a few founders out there, you’re not perfect, and you’re not alone. The important thing is to know your limits, and surround yourself with people who can compensate and provide an external point of view.

Source: Harvard Business Review

43% of the world’s population, and parallel institutions?

You know how immobile you have been when you one day wake up to realize you are less innovative than the catholic church. By electing a south american pope, the Vatican showed it is way ahead of international diplomacy whose organizations are still heavily biased towards western countries. With calls for change not heard by the west, developing nations start to build their own parallel institutions.

The leaders of the so-called BRICS nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — are set to approve the establishment of a new development bank during an annual summit that began today […]

The BRICS nations, which have combined foreign-currency reserves of $4.4 trillion and account for 43 percent of the world’s population, are seeking greater sway in global finance to match their rising economic power. […]

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The “weak signals” indicating a shift in world’s power are getting less and less weak with each passing day.

Education: from “time served” to “stuff learned”

Brilliant, concise summary of the challenges the education “industry” is facing by Tom Friedman in the NYT:

Institutions of higher learning must move […] from a model of “time served” to a model of “stuff learned.” Because increasingly the world does not care what you know. Everything is on Google. The world only cares, and will only pay for, what you can do with what you know. […] We’re moving to a more competency-based world where there will be less interest in how you acquired the competency […] and more demand to prove that you mastered the competency.

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The so called MOOC (for Massive Open Online Courses) have had the same effect than Napster had on the music industry: suddenly something that was protected by physical boundaries becomes ubiquitous and free, and nobody really knows what to do next.

But when you think about it, a school has different functions: passing knowledge, delivering a recognized and comparable certificate, networking students, creating a life experience. Only some of these functions are under siege. School’s roadmap for survival is pretty clear: embrace new technologies where they beat real life teaching, and develop what can not be replicated online, like experience or networking.

It is hard to say where education is going, but one thing is sure: if you do not like change don’t go work in that field, because the coming decade is going to be full of surprises.