The illusion of free

Someone has to pay for those cheap Internet services. I guess it’s us.

Goods and services are getting cheaper. Many are free. Blame it on the Internet and globalization. The upside is that businesses can create new business models where costs are minimal, as Chris Anderson explains in Free: The Future of a Radical Price. The downside is that our brain chemistry is wired by evolution to love a deal. We love to consume, as Ellen Ruppel Shell writes in Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture.

In an age where we can go only a few minutes without staring at a computer screen (smartphones included), it is fair to ask what it is we are consuming. The answer is: Time and information.

Continue reading “The illusion of free”

Don’t just read front to back

The Innovators by Walter Isaacson shows just how unpredictable progress can be.

Many of the best non-fiction books are thick and filled with many stories, facts and chains of wisdom. Reading them front to back can be delicious but also off-putting. You can get bogged down, distracted, put a book down, perhaps forever. Opening a book randomly and reading a few pages can deliver little slices of insight.

Over the last few days I have been dipping into The Innovators by Walter Isaacson, who also wrote about Einstein and Steve Jobs. He has also been showing up on end of year news shows on TV. He always expands the context of the question the interviewer asks and tends to have a wonderfully quirky sense of whatever the interviewer thinks is important.

This book is about the creators of computers and the Internet–the quirky geniuses who worked in a universities, the private sector, government, bedrooms and garages. The big lesson: despite all their quirkiness, they collaborated. Environments that fostered creativity were a big help. This includes US government policy crafted over decades. Continue reading “Don’t just read front to back”

The productivity paradox: Lessons from the sugar camp

Don’t confuse strategy and execution.

Strategy and execution are at opposite poles of the spectrum. The former demands a broad view and some imagination – the ability to speculate and innovate. A light touch. Sometimes even a sense of humor.

Execution on the other hand demands a tight focus and the ability to follow the rules. An organization needs both. When it comes to productivity–something you can measure–we are usually talking about execution. This is good as far as it goes, but sometimes we take it too far. Continue reading “The productivity paradox: Lessons from the sugar camp”

2016: Year of the Human

In our era the machines are advancing. But we humans still need work.

Look around. You are driving to a parking lot, walking into tilt-up concrete buildings to buy stuff imported from China, making small talk with the cashier while checking your phone.

You are on-line at work, at home, at the gym, on the move. Like Xerox once, Google is now a verb. So is Facebook. When Jeff Bezos says “drones,” you had better duck. Netflix after supper.

This digital world is convenient and entertaining, and it often seems free or at least cheap–though it’s not. The data miners are cashing in. Machines and software are getting smarter. Algorithms are evolving, almost like life forms. Continue reading “2016: Year of the Human”

David Bowie’s reinventions

Innovators make a lot of experiments. Some work out. By the time we know, they have moved on. David Bowie comes to mind – and my friend Joe Donovan.

David Bowie died. I was up late watching a BBC documentary about him in the 1970s. He was a character trying out many musical roles. “I’m not very creative,” the musician said at one point. “I just like to keep up on the latest trends.”

Only a truly creative person would say that. Regular people try to be creative. There are books and seminars. Creative people may try not to stand out. It can be a struggle. People who go out of their way to appear creative usually aren’t the real thing. Real creative types are too busy exploring, falling down and getting up again.

In Wired to Create: Unravelling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, authors Kaufman and Gregoire argue that the essence of creativity is the same in any field. Creative people tend to have diverse interests and try a lot of things. This helps them to see connections most of us miss. It’s not easy. Continue reading “David Bowie’s reinventions”