In the first half of the 20th century, Socialism looked like the way of the future. When Nikita Khrushchev said in 1956, “We will bury you,” he had good reason to be optimistic. The Soviet system had seemingly produced an economic miracle.
We now know better. Socialism failed miserably in just about every way you can think of. Today, virtually every economy is a market economy and the ones that aren’t are basket cases. The central debate of the last century was settled long before this one began.
However, even as market systems have proved triumphant, market failures have become increasingly problematic Crashes have become more frequent and more extreme. Broad market solutions to social problems such as crime and pollution still elude us. To solve today’s problems, we need to seek out new solutions and, increasingly, are finding them.
In 1981, IBM was one of the world’s largest companies, but faced a growing threat from the rise of personal computing. Having lost out on the minicomputer revolution of the 1970’s, they were determined not to repeat their earlier mistake.
So instead of trying to develop a product through their usual process, which normally took four years, Don Estridge was dispatched to Boca Raton, Florida to create an innovation team that would work outside the IBM system. A year later, the IBM PC was born.
It was one of history’s great success stories. A large and prosperous company owns up to the realization that “business as usual” won’t cut it, adapts and prevailed. Yet the concept of innovation teams has taken some criticism lately. First from Apple CEO Tim Cook in a Businessweek interview, and more recently from Greg Gretsch in VentureBeat.
In the Terminator series, John Connor and his mother fought to prevent Judgement Day, the moment when the computer system Skynet becomes self aware, decides humans are a threat and moves to wipe us out.
In the real world, we have our own version of Judgement Day called the Singularity and many can’t wait for it to come. Like in the Terminator it is the moment when computers take over, but rather than killing us off the machines enhance us.
Some have called the Singularity a nerd rapture. Its prophet is Ray Kurzweil, one of the world’s foremost experts on artificial intelligence and the new Director of Engineering at Google, where he will direct a good portion of the company’s $6.7 billion R&D budget to making his vision come true. Like it or not, science fiction is becoming science fact.
Many think of TV as a dinosaur of the past. With the rise of social media and other new technology platforms, new media types predict that its days are numbered, soon to be buried under an avalanche of disruptive change. Yet it lives on, despite the skeptics.
In fact, it thrives. TV programming has never been more diverse or of higher quality. My 3-year old learns math concepts on Team Umizoomi while I never miss an episode of Game of Thrones. From scripted shows to talent shows to reality shows, we remain riveted.
For all the talk about cord cutting, viewership remains strong and TV’s share of the ad market is actually higher than it was a decade ago. In fact, the industry is going through a renaissance of sorts, where old models are mixing with new ones to create a vibrant new marketplace for content. For sure, the economics of TV are changing, but for the better.
On July 16th, 1945, when the world’s first nuclear explosion shook the plains of New Mexico, J. Robert Oppenheimer, it’s creator, quoted from the Bhagavad Gita, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
And indeed he had. The world was never truly the same after that, although mostly for the better. We now live longer, happier, healthier lives and are vastly less likely to die a violent death or to face persecution for our religious beliefs, skin color or sexual orientation.
However, the immense power troubled Oppenheimer, as it did many other scientists who understood it. I can’t shake the feeling that today, as we unlock even more powerful technologies, we have lost some of that reverence. For even as technology opens up new worlds, it closes doors to old ones. We should choose thoughtfully and carefully.
Ever since I bought my first Macintosh for college over 20 years ago, I’ve been a big fan of Apple. I love their products. I love their stores. I even love the very idea of Apple.
My family and I are fully embedded in its technological ecosystem (2 Macbooks, 2 iPads, 2 iPhones, an AirPort and an Apple TV) and I have an indirect financial interest in the stock through a fund, so nobody wants Apple to do well more than I do.
Nevertheless, I’ve become skeptical about its future. The death of Steve Jobs, the maps debacle, stiffening competition, a relative dearth of new product launches along with the recent earnings report give ample room for doubt whether Apple is still the company we once knew. There is still have time to right the ship, but it’s running out.
Happiness is supposed to be what we value above all else. Even in ancient times, Aristotle wrote that “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” I think most people would agree. After all, who wants to be miserable?
So it’s strange that we pay so little attention to happiness. When the OECD ranked the US first out of 36 countries in terms of household wealth, but only 12th in life satisfaction, the response was… nothing. No big headlines or blue ribbon panels or congressional committees or even a furrowed brow. Nothing.
Compare that to the sanctimonious handwringing when there is even a slight dip in GDP or a weak jobs report or a mildly troubling manufacturing index and it becomes clear that, while we say we pursue happiness, we do very little to produce it, or even measure and monitor it. Is it any wonder than we’re ever more prosperous but no more happy?
Life for marketers used to be simpler. We had just a few TV channels, some radio stations, a handful of top magazines and a newspaper or two in each market. Reaching consumers was easy, if you were able to craft a compelling message, you could move a lot of product.
Now we’ve got a whole slew of TV channels, millions of web sites and hundreds of thousands of “Apps” along with an alphabet soup of DMP’s, API’s and SDK’s. Marketing was never easy, but technology has made it a whole lot tougher.
What used to be a matter of identifying needs and communicating benefits now requires us to build immersive experiences that engage consumers and seamlessly integrate a whole new range of skills and capabilities. It’s easy to get lost among a sea of buzzwords and false gurus selling snake oil. Here are 4 principles to guide you:
The Luddites were a group of expert weavers in the 19th century who, upon seeing that the invention of the factory loom had made their skills obsolete, smashed the machines in protest. Ever since, “luddite” has become a disparaging term for those who fear technological advance.
As I wrote previously in Forbes, we’re all Luddites now, at least in the sense that many of the hard won skills that we’ve come to depend on for income and social status are now being automated.
MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee have argued that the solution is to learn to “race with the machines;” to become less like the mythical John Henry struggling to outdo a steam hammer and more like an Indy car driver, using technology to race at incredible speed. If so, we will need to not only redefine work, but ourselves as well.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has a very tough job. Not only does he have to run the most valuable tech company on the planet, but he has to follow one of the greatest chief executives in history. Is he up to it? I’m beginning to think he’s not.
There have been some missteps, of course, like some earnings releases that disappointed investors, the maps debacle, the continued lack of NFC or an Apple TV, but that’s not why I’m having doubts.
I find it easy to believe that those things would have happened if Steve Jobs were still around (well, except for maps, maybe). Apple’s legendary founder had more than his share of flops, but he had a great sense of what technology could do. Without him, Apple will have to learn to innovate differently and Tim Cook doesn’t seem up to it.