Jump Point by Tom Hayes

Tom HayesJump Point, a recent addition to the emerging World 2.0 canon presents an argument that evokes a foggy sort of deja vu. If you’ve been keeping up with the literature, you’ll probably frown a bit and think, “wait, this is familiar, somebody’s said this before.” But as you process the argument, you’ll realize that though it is fairly straightforward, and something others have flirted with (The World is Flat and Wikinomics being the prominent ones), nobody has said it quite this way before. The argument is this — we won’t feel the full-scale impact of the Internet until penetration levels are near complete. At that point, we’ll see a massive structural impact on the world that will make what we’ve seen so far pale in comparison. For Hayes, the critical moment is the moment when the 3 billionth human gets connected to the Internet (which current projections suggest will happen around 2011). The number 3 billion isn’t arbitrary — it is roughly the size of the global workforce. So Hayes’ argument is that something dramatic will happen when the world’s workforce gets completely wired. What and Why are the subjects of the book.

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Ronald Coase and Salvation from Anthropological Economics

Economics as a subject has never enjoyed healthier times — a universe of Freakonomics clones is appearing and the subject is galloping along in popularity as an undergraduate major. Yet, these are also the most worrisome times ever for the subject, because it is in danger of losing sight of the big mission — building conceptual models of the economy at large — that makes it so valuable to the rest of us. I’ll explain why it is a problem, and how the coming of The Chosen One, a descendant of Ronald Coase, can get economics back on track addressing the important problems of our century. Let’s start with a little family tree.

Economists Social Network

(portraits by Yurij Alexander)

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A Map of the World 2.0 Canon

I have been reviewing a good many books that fall into the loose category of ‘World 2.0.’ Books that attempt to organize our understanding of the impact of Web 2.0 and social media. Structure the blooming, buzzing confusion, so to speak. So I thought I’d go meta and attempt to visualize this emerging canon. This graphic started as a tangent while I was making notes for my review of Tom Hayes’ Jump Point. Here’s the graphic (click for full-size), with an explanation and links to reviews below.

CanonMap

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The New Location, Location, Location

So far in my series on virtual geography, I have talked mainly about relative location — the 50-foot-rule, the Twitter Zone and the notion of ambient presence are all about where a is in relation to b, in cognitive and physical ways. What can we say about absolute location? The man with the best (and I believe, right) answer is Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, The Flight of the Creative Class and now, what might be his Magnum Opus: Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life

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CEO Badger Picks a CSO

The senior management of Hi-Tech Widgets Inc. was exhausted. A hurried six-month search to replace the lame-duck incumbent CSO, whose succession plans had fallen prey to poaching just as she was planning to leave for a University job, had finally come down to three candidates. The CEO, Badger, dourly reviewed his post-it note of key points over his early-morning coffee.

  • Medium-going-enterprise
  • Steady but not meteoric growth
  • Systems/processes starting to get past teething troubles
  • Startup “innovation-everywhere” culture starting to dissipate
  • Investors looking for more structure to R&D investment, at about 5% of revenues

He sighed. What the note didn’t capture was backdrop of resentments and squabbles.

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Inventoritis and the Grabowski Ratio

“Overcoming Inventoritis” by Peter Paul Roosen and Tatsuya Nakagawa is a little rough diamond of a book. Though it is very amateurishly produced and designed, and reads like a set of long, disorganized, conversational email notes, it is packed densely with interesting practitioner insights, strung together loosely to argue that “Inventoritis” (never explicitly defined, but roughly, ‘falling in love with your idea’) is an extraordinarily dumb thing to do. The centerpiece of the book is an unusual take on the Edison-vs-Tesla argument. Going against the modern practice of making the former out to be a villain and the latter the hero, the authors argue that evaluated right, Edison was the better inventor. A revealing and startling point that anchors the whole argument is that nearly all of Edison’s 1000+ patents were commercialized, while Tesla’s failed at around an 80% rate, especially in his later phase as an inventor.

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The NAE’s Grand Challenges vs. Mine

The US National Academy of Engineers recently released a list of ‘Grand Challenges.’ As you’ve no doubt noticed, this sort of top-down driving of research agendas has picked up pace recently. You also have the new X-prize for a 100mpg car, following on the heels of the one which Burt Rutan won for commercial space flight. A bunch of other X-prizes have also come into being. Google joined the fray with its Lunar X-prize. Consider also the DARPA Grand Challenges. Then of course, there are the Clay Millenium problems in mathematics. Something bothers me about this top-down agenda setting for research, and formal competition as a way to drive innovation. Let’s poke at it by comparing the NAE’s list with mine.

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On Japan as a Robot-Loving Nation

I suppose I am not your typical blogger in one way: I don’t blog about news items that grab my attention, because I am rarely happy with my first-order immediate reaction to the news. It often takes me years before I consciously “get” why a piece of news grabbed my attention. For instance, I have had this snippet saved in my email for a couple of years now:

…Japan’s robot love goes farther than respect for function, and deeper than mere pragmatism can explain. Shinto, Japan’s homegrown religion, is an animist faith. The Japanese embrace of robots is a logical extension of ancient beliefs that all things, living and nonliving, organic and inorganic, can possess a transcendent spirit. In Japanese tradition, humanity has never been reserved for humans. Is it any wonder that Japan is welcoming the cyborg future with open arms?

From: “ASIAN POP: Robot Nation” by Jeff Yang, SF Gate Thursday, August 25, 2005

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The Varieties of Innovation Experience

If you have accepted ‘innovator’ as some part of your identity, what sort of innovator are you? I offer here a dictionary of personality types I’ve encountered in the 10 years I’ve been in the business, and offer some of my favorite examples from history. But before I let you have fun trying to recognize yourself in my list, a word of explanation is in order. I have always been unhappy with the usual definition of innovation — as invention successfully taken to market. This definition is of the sort David Foster Wallace calls “deeply trivial” (he coins that phrase in Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity and provides an elegant example: “because it is illegal” as an answer to the question, “why is it wrong to kill?”). So here we go: a better definition of innovation, and a taxonomy of innovation styles, with apologies to William James.

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Ambient Presence and Virtual Social Capital

In previous articles in this series on virtual geography, I considered the 50-foot rule and its reconstruction for a digital world. Let’s return to the theme from another angle: ambient presence. Let’s say you and your spouse work in different cities. You both sign up for a VoIP service like Skype, but instead of dutifully talking every evening, you just turn up the speakers on your respective computers, and leave the Skype connection on. You occasionally say something to each other; you can hear each other’s TVs and kitchen noises. That’s ambient presence. Communication technology becoming so cheap that you can afford to leave it on to create a passive background connection. It is a pretty darn cool concept, so let’s take a serious look at it.

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