What’s Covid got to do with your chips’ and biscuits’ pricing?

Well, the reasoning here is pretty simple.

Covid led to increased digital adoption in payments. Damn, i wish i had invested some money in upi or gpay.

Anyways, so as digital payments go mainstream, even for small ticket items, how long before considerations of physical money fall behind in our culture?

In a sense, it’s already happening in China. and in that sense, it is a dystopia. I personally prefer the anonymity, the freedom from big data, that cash offers.

But if most people started to pay with e-money, then why would a biscuit box need to be priced at 10 or a soap at 20?

How long before we see mass FMCG SKUs prized at 13.34 rs and 57.31 rs?

This will work in brand’s favour too – it will complicate the maths for the consumers, making it more difficult for them to compare between two, unless a plugin/ feature does that job for them.

hmm, if i must punt, i will give it another year for some premium variants of some FMCG brand to start appearing on shelves with non rounded numbers.

Imagining a Post-Covid World

As Covid-19 mutates, so must our lives.

The virus might be microscopic, but its impacts come in various shapes at various scales. It affects how we feel, how we work, how the global leaders form new alliances and even how the earth heaves a sigh of relief (or not).

So here’s looking at the world at the post-corona world through seven levels of consciousness.

1. Individual

a. The isolated soul

The economic currents take us away from our hometowns and the coronavirus has shut doors on the possibility of going back anytime soon.
Quarantined, worried and unsure – we are profoundly lonely as existential questions dance on our conscience without pause.
Distractions are our only succour.

b. Trust

In a hypermediated world, opinions after opinions lash at our consciousness like waves at a rocky beach – incessant and slowly eroding our sense of solidity.
Hydrochloroquine, 9 min 9 tamashas… power that be wants us sedated with confusion and meaningless gestures.
Who do we trust? What do we do?

c. Freedom

Every cough a threat, every touch an attack. Scared, worried our eyes have grown suspicious. Even after lockdown, how freely will you move?

How will we measure freedom in 2021?
With number of trackers on our phone tracing Covid’s spread?

d. Individualism

We have been living so far as if we can live disconnected invulnerably. ‘I rise alone. I chart my own path.’
But we die together. we suffer together.

It might be a ‘me-versus-the-world’ world.
But for us to survive it must become ‘we-are-in-this-together’ world.

e. Power

Covid-19 has stripped us of our hubris. We are now suspicious of our own breathing and touching. We are truly helpless. Our enemy is invisible, all around us. And for a while, we will have no weapon against it.

f. Death

Fear of death is a kinetic force; it moves us to do things in our lives. It forces us to live more consciously.
Better eating, exercising, reading up, talking to people for longer, entertaining philosophical curiosities, getting religious… Fear of death is a fountain of activity.

g. Amusement

Well, not all of us are brave enough to acknowledge death. We must remain in denial. We must remain entertained and amused. God forbid that the internet stops working now. We would have riots the next day.

2. Social Life

Intimacy

Intimacy is beautiful with the right partner. It’s a private hell, otherwise. Under lockdown, people are discovering this, often for the first time. Record number of Chinese couples filed for divorces in Wuhan after lockdown was lifted. What will happen to your relationship by May 3rd?

Social dinners

To meet someone in the capitalist world is to spend money collectively on an evening/ afternoon meal. Under lockdown, we are now instead playing games together, complaining about the bad connection of video calls together…
To be social need not be about spending money.

Family life

A family may stay apart in today’s world, but it worries together. We police each other, we exchange news and laugh uncomfortably away the political differences.

3. Community

Public spaces

In the last century, the socialists imagined great things from public spaces – fertile spaces for ideas to emerge, art to get created, political discourses to be enjoyed, anthems to togetherness be sung…
Public spaces died first with malls. Covid was the latest nail in the coffin. The public imagination for possibilities with public spaces has taken a tragic turn.

Class

Crises are opportunities to disrupt. Revolutionaries can tip over the critical mass. Or capitalist can profiteer and strengthen hold over the resources.
Privacy, masks, foodgrains, brandband access – everything is an opportunity with someone losing, someone winning.

Health-centred orientation

Microfinance empowered women and rebuilt community relationships around finance. Maybe time has come now for health centred co-operatives, shared insurances, indigenous knowledge systems meeting modern medicine?

4. Culture

Us vs Them

Covid will strengthen the xenophobia, make us sceptical of each other. We are hurtling towards the dark ages where we seek people to pin blame on rather than seeking co-operation. We will come-around. Fingers crossed.

Caste & Religion

The whatsapp university graduates are busy turning social distancing into a communal/ casteist conspiracy. Social untouchability might become untouchability. How do we ensure that caste system doesn’t gain currency?
Religious powers are bound to gain power everywhere.

Small town vs Cities

The epidemic has made evident the absolute lack of safety net for the migrant labourers in city. Demonetisation, CAA riots and now Covid induced hunger. Third strike and out? Would migrants demand more now? Shouldn’t they?

Time for taking economy to small towns instead of getting people from small towns to economic centres.

5. Economy

Capitalism & Human capabilities

With imagination and agency, human enterprise can shapeshift to adapt and counter the threat of any crisis. If every swiss person is ALSO trained in operating arms, and many last-generation villagers could ALSO sow paddy, why can’t most earthlings be trained in multiple capabilities? Imagine a person being able to serve first-aid AND code. Another can bear arms AND do financial analysis.
Capitalism wants specialism – one cog doing one act repeatedly in service of efficiency and cost reduction.
For humanity to thrive that model must change. The cog needs to be empowered to react, empowered with more capabilities than one.

Digital v/s physical

The ones with wi-fi access and jobs that can be done online are the new haves. The have-nots are the ones who must interact and produce something in the physical world.
Until the next vulnerability to digital world is discovered. Diversify our existence between digital and physical?

6. Politics

Governments versus subjects

Will this be another excuse to consolidate power and disenfranchise people in one way or another?
Covid-19 might pave the way for Authoritarianism rule in Southeast Asia.

Global versus Local

A globalised world is a world that globalises risks too.
Many countries will wake up to this insight and start ‘diversifying risk’.
Local capabilities and resources are not replaceable, cannot be made redundant. We will witness a hard swing to localism.

7. Planet

Why commute now that we know WFH works?
Why fly so often when we can do without it?
Why spend as much in shopping, entertainment when we now know that we can do without it?
Look at the blue sky outside. Look at the birds that have returned. Wouldn’t we want to retain these things in our lives? We might just end up not pushing our children in the climate change induced hellhole.

Evolving for times of Crises

Covid-19 has knocked the wind out of the global machine that humanity lives in. It has shattered our illusions of stability, our belief in global capitalism (about time), our hopes of certain growth forever.

It is not just a pandemic. It is a huge question mark that stands tall in front of humanity. What’s the meaning of life? What matters? and most importantly, what should we do?

The global machine – capitalism, globalism – runs on the grease of specialism: that I be a specialist brand strategist, that someone else be a specialist health worker and so on. In times of crisis though, this very grease is becoming the gunk that’s contributing to the machine falling apart.

Crises are times when an overwhelming force requires to be countered by overwhelming efforts from the part of united humanity.

Against divisiveness, towards unity

So firstly, we can’t counter these overwhelming forces effectively if we can’t ‘unite’ effectively. A machine that runs on the principles of divisive exploitation is bound to falter and possibly disintegrate in such a situation. Global Capitalism is based on constant replacement of labour with cheaper labour. It is based on inability of people moving as quick as the money does. It is based on exploitation profit principle which perpetuates and amplifies inequality. It is based on divisive politics that pits one community against another.

Under such conditions, humanity can’t unite. The exploited class will remain suspicious of the ruling class. Toilet roll brawls, disbelief fueled corona-parties happen, religious gatherings happen, demonisation of minority happens… the global capitalism had sown the seed of dissent in its very DNA. So there goes unity.

The anti-dote to global capitalism too is seeded in it’s DNA – platform economy. Facebook, amazon etc have shown what platforms can do. Unfortunately, these platforms are right now running with capital mindset of greedy fucktards. But the truth is – platform economy’s logical endpoint is a new form of socialism. A new kind of economy where most essential things can and should be free for most. I have written more about it here. We must work towards this possibility if humanity is to survive and thrive.

Against specialism, towards adaptability

Secondly, the issue of specialism. Specialism is great for maximizing efficiencies, scaling, reducing cost etc. It’s a must for scaling effectively. As such, its a must for global capitalism. But it’s also making us vulnerable to destabilizing catastrophes.

Like Swiss, South Korean and Israeli citizen, who are trained to take up arms in times of emergency (which meant war for them), global humanity must also have a strategy to build capabilities in every global citizen and communities to respond to health crises/ biological warfare/ riots/ wars/ famines etc.

Govt/ corporates/ power centers essentially must build capabilities among their citizen to adapt to emerging situations if the power that be want to maintain their power structures (stability and status quo).

RAPID EMERGENCE

In a complex and Dynamic system such as the global humanity, we can’t rely and wait for institutions to strategise and respond. Global communities must be empowered to unify, take informed decisions and respond quickly. For a health emergency a substantial proportion of people should be trained to respond with nurse/ care/ logistics skills. For wars, an overlapping set of people in substantial numbers should be trained to organise, mobilise, evacuate, arm and respond if necessary. For natural disasaters, similarly another overlapping set of people should be capable of rapidly transforming into first responders, medics, cooks, truck drivers etc.

The essential principle to survive and thrive in the new globalised world is to,

  1. Build Platforms as Commons
  2. Build Capabilities among citizenry to respond rapidly for emergencies

Markets & Corona virus

This post is not about brands or advertising. I had recently started investing. And the complete equity portfolio now is in deep red.

I wasn’t smart enough to exit early on. Now the question for me is – should i absorb losses and exit (fearing recession) or should i stay on with the assumption that market will recover in a year or so.

What do we know so far:

  1. World is shutting down. Today, domestic flights were grounded in India. There are curfews in all major cities.
  2. Not enough people are getting tested. nor do we have the capacity to take care of them once people get infected. so we don’t know the extent of spread in India as of now and can’t have confidence in the governance to manage the situation well. some estimates suggest that the death toll from this epidemic in India would be around 1 to 2 million. This will mean healthcare infra crashing down.
  3. We are atleast a year away from cure/ vaccine. so we are likely to remain quarantined for a long time.
  4. Food, essential shortage will create chaos. govt aren’t prepared for such curfews. chaos and fear will reign.
  5. Without cashflow, how will companies survive? unemployment will rise sharply. and during curfew how are these many unemployed people going to rage on religion and diversionary topics like that? recession looks inevitable.
  6. what could ensure normalcy in a few months? if social distancing actually works and infections are within limts. if the curve flattens out. china is opening up in three months. maybe India too can open up in three months. it will be a slow start but that’s the best case scenario.

The scenarios

  1. Best case scenario: The lock-downs are efficient. Indian heat has reduced virus’ ability to spread. But even then, the high density and low hygiene standards means that the casualties would not be like Germany, but more like Iran. A complete quarantine is a near impossibility in India. so the best case scenario will require public-private partnerships to manage to healthcare load, reduce economic uncertainty with free rations, services etc. Job losses limited to tourism, restaurants, events, aviation, travel, personal services etc. manufacturing coasts along with some months of without pay shut down and govt assistance to companies to remain afloat. services to build capabilities to WFH effectively.
    This scenario will see Indian economy to first suffer slowdown in next quarter and recovery post july perhaps. my portfolio in which case will fall further 5 – 10% (its down by 25% now) and then start recovering.
    I give this scenario a 30% possibility. its an arbitrary figure which i will tweak with new information.
    Its less likely that worse case scenario because – for it to happen, many efforts need to happen by various stakeholders in good faith. Its simply easy for the world to descend to worse case scenario.
  2. Worst Case Scenario:
    massive spread of virus -> spiraling casualties -> gloom & doom -> companies running out of cash -> govt unable to support companies or people -> rising unemployment and indebtedness -> rising NPAs -> finance sector stressed -> demand slump -> Depression -> lack of info/ panic – > chaos -> mob rule and breakdown of social life

Given the right wing forces, rise of misinformation, precariousness of finance sector and of personal finances of most Indians, and lack of info about possible infections – the worse case scenario seems more plausible.

70%. will tweak it with new information.

so overall should take at-least some of my money out of market, since markets will move downwards in most of 2020.

but to make decisions regarding individual choices, i am planning to analyse the companies along following parameters.

<when i get time> damn. WFH actually keeps me more busy. the to-do list never gets exhausted.

anyways, here’s the factors. will update about analysis when i get around to doing it. i must, soon.

Factors to consider

Nature of markets

1. Dynamic systems

Markets are a dynamic systems with many moving parts that affect each other in unimaginable ways. at an aggregate level, the complexity multiplies – it doesnt cancel out. 

so be prepared for events that have asymmetric impacts, for events that would develop quickly and cascade in directions we cant anticipate and events that surprisingly don’t affect a change or affects change slowly over long periods of time. 

how will climate change, right wing political landscape, move to e-commerce… affect each other and the market? 

2. Long term dependence
“Past continues to influence the random fluctuations of the present.” 

So what factors in our past will haunt us in the Corona-virus epoch? what choices now will influence long term prospects of companies?

3. Market turbulence tends to cluster 

Mandlebrot says that markets typically have periods of high volatility with long lulls. Right now we are in the high volatility phase. we are yet to see more turbulence. 

4. Variable speeds 

One, market movements will be ‘fast’ now.
Second, some industries will bottom out now. some others may take years yet to bottom out. Need to figure out which ones will bottom out when. 

5. Emergence

What would emerge from current situations – what new organisations might emerge? new civic minded coalitions? religious extremists seeing corona as god’s will? new

what new habits and behaviors will emerge? surveillance and open access to health records? Increased hygiene routines? 

Increased legitimacy of online living – gaming, AR, e-commerce etc.

Global factors.

1. State of information.
If stock exchange is an exchange of information, we need to have confidence about how much we know. if people feel that there is lack of transparency and control, the market will remain volatile. 

Modi enjoys a messianic appeal. He can use it to reduce the volatility and showcase control and transparency of key information relevant to markets.  

Crisis is a good opportunity for the govt to embrace facts for a change.

Will it happen? i give it 50-60% probability. the event of 22nd march with claps is a test of his charisma. more mobilising will follow at war footing. some of it i hope for the good. and as the situation gets worse, hopefully govt will be forced to work in partnership with private companies and as such make relevant data public. fingers crossed.

2. War-time economy doctrine: who benefits, who suffers?

Whose infrastructure/ resources will the govt need to commandeer to say manufacture ventilators, test kits at a war footing? which hotels would the govt want to convert into makeshift hospitals? 

3. Crisis are the moments in history when great changes take place.
Will authoritarianism take hold or the ensuing tragedy of millions of deaths lead to stronger democratic institutions and a new political force? will the world take left or right?

4. Global shock
US goes into recession, Oil price shock, weakening rupee, supply and demand shocks due to disruption.

refineries, airline industries are disproportionately affected by the oil shock, demand shock.

as the world re-orients itself around corona virus – it will require new companies that can help the health workers work more efficiently, create services for the affected etc. 

A whole new economy is yet to emerge.

Company specific factors

5. Financial strength to weather the disruption for a year

the ones with ample cash war chest. the ones not depending on short term cash flow to survive. the ones with low amount/ no debt. the ones with no/ little obligation in dollars or other foreign currencies. 

6. Dependence and risk to work force’s health

well, this affects everyone. for whom does it affect less? service sector yes.? but where is the asymmetric advantage highest? mostly new-economy digital services, but which ones?

7. dependence on raw material whose supply might be affected

well everything is made in China. we might see China slowly get back to business in the coming months. but would some Indian companies take this opportunity to grow capacity and grow? Govt is pushing for electronic component manufacturing and pharma ingredient manufacturing. There are some opportunities here in the long term. 

but as the situation gets severe in India, it might actually be a very difficult scenario. local supplies, if disrupted, would be problematic for most manufacturing companies. 

we are likely going to see severe disruption to manufacturing in the coming months.

Consumer related factors

8. dependence on consumers whose demand is affected

As pandemic spreads, companies will lose employees, people might lose jobs, bread earners might die. Great gloom will spread. Consumption will go down. we are entering recession, no doubt about it.

Outdoor social economy will collapse. 

rentals collapsing in europe where airbnbs were reducing the rental supply. with corona, low tourism so property owners are moving to rentals. real estate has been fucked since a few years. this will be death knell for quite a few real estate players. but yay! i can begin to imagine owning a house one day. if i manage to keep my job/ and if not, manage to make enough money to save some. 

In the medium term though, social distancing means a full stop to consumption at restaurants, pubs etc. but the rent payments, bills won’t stop. but home deliveries are booming. maybe home deliveries will start charging premium as panic grows?

Work from home services are booming – conferencing, collaborations tools, broadband, telecom etc.  

Entertainment at home is booming – OTT, gaming etc 

People are getting bored at home – will they end up spending money on fashion online? boom or bust for myntra?

9. Balance of capital

Rich people with enough money on hand and strong enough cash flows but too worried about volatility in market, might end up spending it on luxury items? luxury cars, real estate, art, cosmetics etc. 

the vast middle class might return to FDs and public bank deposits. and away from MFs, stocks etc. so large established banks like HDFC might gain somewhat? the upper middle and middle class will save as much as they can. 

the lower class will feel the disruption the most. social distancing is already playing havoc on daily wage earners and even house helps. in rural areas the distress might get acute – constrained cash flow, fewer opportunties and gloom of corona deaths. 

They might find succour in religion (dangerous tilt to right for the nation?), alcohol, small indulgences (snacks) and cultural identity based events/ activities?

Alternatively, will the urban rich/ upper class flee to hinterlands creating new economic opportunities in the interiors?

Future of Creativity: Convivial Creations & Collaborative Commons

“Man is born to inquire and create, and when a man or a child chooses to inquire or create out of his own free choice then he becomes in his own terms an artist rather than a tool of production or a well-trained parrot.”

Wilhelm von Humboldt (Chomsky, 1970)

Creativity is a fundamental feature of the creature called human. It’s not a plug-in. It’s not a bug. It’s the defining feature. Take away her freedom, her creative pursuits; you might as well take away her life.

Even as the whirlwind of technological changes transform our lives, the creative spirit of humanity remains alive – adapting and changing perhaps, but never getting extinguished. In fact, new technologies and platforms are enabling people to be creative in new ways- giving people power to be producers and not just consumers. With new found power, people are creating new currencies, building guns in their garage with 3d printing, imagining new governance models and even editing their own genes with CrispR. The brave new world is full of possibilities.

This is truly a watershed moment in the history of human creativity. The world is going through a creative renaissance. But can the same thing be said about Creative Agencies? It seems as if the world is racing ahead even as agencies remain fixated on the rear view mirror, its glory days.

It has never been as convenient as it is now to create asymmetric disruption with creative innovations. By Asymmetric, I mean the disproportionate impact that a small group of people can have. Consider WhatsApp. The company that created WhatsApp consisted of a handful of people. The app they made now facilitates communications between billions of people across the world. Or for that matter, consider the alleged Russian hackers causing havoc with US democracy. Both are cases of relatively small groups of people creating big impacts in the world.

Historically, creative agencies thrived in a world where the asymmetry didn’t exist to this extent. The brands with more money hired better creative shops and spent more money on media to create culture defining commercials. They created a shared consumerist utopia that continues to shape our worldview to this day.

The organisational structure, the technology they used, reflected this reality. The tools of trade were inaccessible to common folks in proximity & capability. The structure was hierarchical, reflecting the importance of a few people’s expertise in the organisation. The organisation practically revolved around a few stars. This suited well for a world where speeds of culture dissemination were comparatively much slower and people had few choices when it came to consumption of content or brands.

The world has completely changed now, but the advertising industry has not. Speeds of cultural dissemination and tool of creations have accelerated, but we still think through the prism of slow-moving culture of film scripts & print layouts. The hierarchy and culture of hero-worshipping doesn’t always allow for younger talent to autonomously react to emerging cultural memes. And lastly, the tools and capabilities in an advertising company now are in no way superior to that of a successful group of Instagram influencers.

How can advertising industry excite its creative people if the industry is a laggard now and not a vanguard? What new roles can agencies assume in this amorphous, ever changing world that is as exciting at its fringes as it is at its centre?

To answer these questions, lets first get a sense of the nature of the beast we are talking about.

1.     Shift focus from Titillating tech to Transformative Tech.

Digital technology has upended long established ways of working. People working in the industry are fundamentally confused about the impact of technology on the industry. There’s merit in revisiting the thoughts of the great Marshall McLuhan here. He famously said, “the medium is the message”. His statement suggested that a medium/ a technology, affects the society in which it plays a role, not by the content delivered over the medium, but by the characteristic of the medium itself.  We shape tools for our ends and in the process, the tools mould us.

When we talk about Technology, we have been focusing on the ‘content’ of technology – ‘which tools should our creative partners use? Which Social Network are people using?’ The truth is – these questions are trivial at the broader level. Facebook, the social media platform, didn’t upend our business models, by monopolising attention of people. The secret weapon of the platform is its egalitarian promise of enabling people to do what was not possible before. New platforms like Uber, Amazon, Facebook, Google create fundamentally new ‘agencies’ for people – new capabilities that people didn’t have access to before.

Platforms are egalitarian spaces for enhancing one’s agency – in a sense uber provides hyper limbs on demand, google is a vast brain at our disposal and Facebook is the nerve-centre of our social lives. These platforms are enabling people to supersize their capabilities and be creative in new ways. That is the fundamental promise of platforms.

The promise is not just about ‘liking’ a brand or dancing to a Tik Tok track. The promise is that of building on top of the new freedoms, new ‘agencies’ that platforms offer. Consider the brand ‘Glossier’ for instance. It turns its packaging into an interactive canvas for users to personalise their products with stickers, designed for Instagram followers. On the other hand, consider Google search and Amazon Echo’s impact on Brands. L2 Inc.’s research suggested that queries for non-branded products increased in every CPG Category, at the expense of branded products! For everyday use product categories, brands might soon become redundant. One of the freedoms that people expect from platforms is the freedom to not remember brand names!

To survive in this rapidly evolving world, agencies need to learn from these platforms.

 The tech that we should focus on is the one that helped them build the platforms: The tech that helped them create new agencies, new capabilities for humanity.  To do that we need to first look at how they built their teams – the way they work, collaborate, take in feedback and improve.

We don’t need to ape them. But we surely do need to learn from them and identify the systemic changes that technology can help us introduce.

Creative transformation principle #1

FOCUS ON THE WAY TECH CAN IMPROVE THE ‘SYSTEMS’ OF OUR INDUSTRY: THE WAY WE WORK, COLLABORATE, RESPOND. 
HOW CAN WE EXTEND AGENCIES OF PEOPLE TOO?
DON’T FOCUS ON THE PARTICULAR TOOLS OF CREATIVITY. THOSE WILL KEEP CHANGING.

2.
From mass media manufacturer of desire
To Culture Creator among people

Unlike past, when a cultural content would last for years, big campaigns made sense. In an age where even blockbuster billion-dollar films get consumed and relegated to past in a matter of a few months, do planned campaigns with long gestation period and diminishing lifetime, make sense?

Brands might as well play lottery with that money.

Now, content is consumed and created instantaneously, built over, remixed & spread memetically. By the time an agency or a client catches hold of the coat-tails of the trend, the meme has transformed into something else. The MEME is ephemeral and yet leaves its imprint on the culture by letting others build over it. This duality of ephemerality and timelessness of memes is quite beautiful and intriguing. Even digital agencies, with their siloed structures, have not even begun to appreciate how to deal with this new beautiful beast. Agencies are simply not BUILT to host, curate or influence these memetic trends.

CREATIVE TRANSFORMATION PRINCIPLE #2

BUILD FOR INSTANTENUOUS CULTURE OF CREATION & CURATION. 
BUILD FOR PARTICIPATING AND CREATING AT THE SPEED OF CULTURE.

3. FROM IVORY TOWER OF EXPERTS TO
FERTILE GROUND FOR DIVERSE INTELLIGENCE

Digital collaborations are increasingly frictionless, due to the zero marginal cost paradigm. This has enabled people from across the world to network and work together in new ways, that was not conceivable even a few years ago.

Take the case of FOLDIT for example. It’s an interesting experiment that gets gamers to solve complex long-standing scientific problems. Anybody can participate in these ‘games’ – some are high-school students, some without a science background. Yet, this collective of video gamers helped monumentally in a decade long effort in mapping the structure of an enzyme used by retroviruses similar to HIV. (This is references from Joi Ito & Jeff Howe’s book, Whiplash)

The experiment harnesses the superior abilities of gamers of recognising patterns, an innate form of spatial reasoning that most of us lack. The organisers of experiment filtered through hundreds of thousands of people who are experts at this very specific skillset. This they did, by using the data generated by the game, intelligently.

Big Data’s big advantage is in finding the precise capabilities, trends, insights that would have been simply not possible to find otherwise.

Among the many other implications that this has for advertising, I want to bring to your attention, one fundamental myth that ails this industry. The myth of expertise behind closed doors.

If gamers can help microbiologists in their very specialised tasks, why can’t salesmen & bus conductors help us solve brand problems? Why can’t agencies harness big data to find and match expertise in ways that allow it a greater play in culture? (And Publicis’ Marcel is not the way for it. I have a few ideas, will share it in a book I am writing now.)

The way we leverage expertise is counter-productive. The prevalent practice is to hire creative talent and make them work exclusively on select client projects. But history tells us that best ideas come at intersection of minds, in open fields of free association, when mind delves in diversity-rich societies. The closed doors of agencies only accelerate the decay of creative thought processes.  

For effective creative transformation, agencies need to engineer greater diversity in our work-streams.

Creative transformation principle #3

ADOPT TECHNOLOGIES & POLICIES THAT ENHANCE DIVERSITY OF EXPERTISE.

4.   FROM AUTHORITY TO EMERGENCE

Diversity leads to dialectic dialogue. The organisational systems and incentives need to be designed in a way that these dialogues build over each other and not end in internecine politics. For that to happen, the management needs to cede control strategically. The power must move away from the centre and towards edges, become fluid and transitional. An organisational chart of an agency should be closer to the participatory democracy of Switzerland rather than the iron fist of Soviet communist party.

Joi Ito & Jeff Howe, in their book Whiplash, make a persuasive argument for this shift. Traditional systems depend on decisions made at the top. Consequently, the processes are slow, encrusted in layers of bureaucracy and encumbered by a conservative proceduralism.

To respond rapidly, the organizational structure must allow for ‘emergence’. Emergence is the ability of a collective to do something that individuals couldn’t do on their own. Ants exhibit it when they navigate challenges to their colony or to source food, without a central decision-making body. They do so, by following a few simple principles encoded in their genes that guide their behaviour around certain stimuli. 

There’s a lesson here. Organisations that institute simple principles which empower autonomous behaviours among its workforce can respond to new threats and challenges much more effectively. This is already happening to an extent with online tools that reduce much of the friction that defined business in 20th century – in raising capital (with Kickstarter), in communicating (with Slack/WhatsApp), in manufacturing (with 3d printers, Shenzhen supply chain) and so on. With on-demand manufacturing in Shenzhen, on-demand access to cloud with AWS, on-demand access to capital on Kickstarter/ VC, on-demand access to talent through gig-economy, anyone can respond to an emergent threat/ opportunity now and start an organisation. 

It’s a brave new world out there. To navigate changes in these rapid waters, we must take a few brave decision and pivot towards being an emergent organization.

Creative Transformation principle #4

RESILIENT ORGANISATIONS ALLOW FOR EMERGENCE. 
CREATE ENVIRONMENTS & SYSTEMS IN WHICH PEOPLE CAN BE FREE TO CREATE, INQUIRE & RESPOND AUTONOMOUSLY. 

5.    FROM WATERTIGHT SILOS TO PERMEABLE SYSTEMS

The creative industry clings dearly to siloed structures. When traditional agencies were found wanting in their digital capabilities, they created a separate department for that. Now digital transformation is the talk of the town and voila! There’s a sister concern catering to that demand. It is almost a knee jerk reaction. Need to increase gender diversity – hire a gender diversity officer. The ideas have been lagging in execution? Create a position of chief delivery officer.

For every objective, the modern agencies simply hire a person whose headache it would be to run the agenda. Agencies these days are ballooning with senior level hires who seem to spend more time convincing clients that transformation/ diversity hire/ delivery indeed is improving, rather than systemically doing something to solve those problems.

The costly hired hands can’t do much anyways. In a global firm, how can a person or a department truly influence other departments? The problem is systemic, the solution too must be systemic. It can’t be anybody else’s headache. It has to be the CEO’s headache.

How does an agency CEO deal with this situation effectively? By enabling a more permeable culture – getting more people to work/ interact with people from other departments – agencies can improve diversity of thought and create more opportunities for emergence of creative opportunities and responses to threats. Intellectually, the most fertile grounds for innovations are the intersections of an organisation.

CEOs should work towards ensuring a permeable structure that rewards exchange of expertise, inter-departmental conversations and ability to self-govern.

Creative Transformation principle #5

USE TECH TO INCREASE THE OPPORTUNITIES FOR PEOPLE FROM VARIOUS DEPARTMENTS TO WORK/ TALK WITH EACH OTHER. INTELLECTUALLY, THE MOST FERTILE GROUND IS AT THE INTERSECTION OF DEPARTMENTS. 

Summation

At the heart of the issue of Creative transformation of our industry are people who create and inquire freely. The industry will thrive as long as these creative heroes have an enabling, free and autonomous environment. For them to rise to the challenge of changing times, their environment must evolve along the following principles.

  1. Focus on the way tech can improve the ‘systems’ of our industry: the way we work, collaborate, respond. Don’t focus on the particular tools of creativity. Those will keep changing.
  2. Build for instantaneous culture of creation & curation. Build for participating and creating at the speed of culture.
  3. Adopt technologies & policies to enhance diversity of expertise.
  4. Resilient organisations allow for emergence. Create environments & systems in which people can be free to create, inquire & respond autonomously. 
  5. Use tech to increase the opportunities for people from various departments to work/ talk with each other. Intellectually, the most fertile ground is at the intersection of departments.

It will do well to remember Ivan Illich’s famous words when we plan for creative transformation. People need tools that extend their freedoms, not limit them.

“People need new tools to work with rather than tools that “work” for them. They need technology to make the most of the energy and imagination each has, rather than more well−programmed energy slaves.”

Ivan Illich, Tools for Conviviality

Four Principles for Building Brands in the Climate Change Epoch.

How dare you.

You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.

Greta Thunberg

How dare we?

Even as ecosystems collapse, climate change exacerbates refugee crisis and our survival becomes more and more precarious, we continue to go on with our business as usual. We tell ourselves that it’s someone else’s job. We tell ourselves that market will correct itself. But will it really? Do brands & brand-creators really have no role to play in the fast approaching tragedy of climate change?

Brands alleviated the pain of the Sisyphean tragedy of modern capitalism. Brands taught the world how to want. Brands gave the notion of free will and choices when it comes to consumption. It made the powerless feel powerful – that their choices, their consumption mattered. The consumptive soma that advertising created, filled the world with euphoria, making people forget about the differences that divided them, for a while. The promise of abundance, growth, prosperity united the world in a beautiful hope.

Essentially, brands created the over-consumptive world that is now hurtling down towards climate catastrophe. If brands, collectively, had a role to play in getting us to where we are, we surely can find ourselves a role in the new world. We can be one of the guardians of humanity in the new epoch of reckoning with the abundance-without-consequence era. We must.

Gradually and then suddenly

We humans are reasonably capable of imagining future worlds, of estimating the possible shape of things to come. Climate change won’t come as a surprise to many. However, what we positively suck at, is estimating the speed with which we rush headlong into the future. No matter how well we might estimate the future, we always arrive there surprised.

 Most Brands too would find themselves unprepared to cater to a world that has suddenly shifted on its consumptive axis. Climate change awareness is increasing rapidly. Corporates and brands need to catch with the rest of the global population.

To ensure that brands don’t fall through the cracks when the chasm of climate-change-consciousness opens, we need to start charting a course for our brands for that future, right now. Like a stock exchange, where it is nearly impossible to gauge when a stock’s price will bottom out/ max out, it is just as impossible to predict when the cultural tipping point regarding climate change would pass.

Climate change will become an all-encompassing social reality sooner than later and there’s no time better than now to start working towards it.

Brands in Good faith

The problem with fighting an amorphous, all-encompassing situation is its overwhelming nature. There are no ready answers. There isn’t even a complete appreciation of the problem. At the first instant when humanity confronts reality of climate change, our faces are painted with shades of bafflement and our spirits shrink rapidly with the recognition of what we have collectively done.

Our instinct tells us to deny, to dust the awesome, under the carpet.

But the time has come for each one of us to be bigger than that: To muster the courage to see the situation as it is, to feel helpless along with others and to seek out help and help each other out.

Time has come for brands too, to examine the world it created, in good faith and be prepared to change RADICALLY: By seeking help, by collaborating with other organisations.

Climate change poses an existential risk. And as such, every organisation, every individual must be a soldier in the fight against our own extinction. It is not a fight that one can opt out of.

The primary ‘purpose’ of every organisation in 21st century must be to help humanity survive and thrive as climate change’s impacts become more and more apparent.

A comprehensive awareness of our brand’s impact on the world is critically needed, the assessment of which, must be done in good faith.

4 Principles of Building Brands in the Climate Change Epoch

Prof. Jem Bendell’s paper, ‘Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy’ has been deeply inspirational to me. I have used his Resilience, Relinquishment, Restoration framework to inform the four principles of brand building in climate change epoch.

We, the brand-builders and brand owners, must ask ourselves,

  1. Does our brand’s existence harm anyone in anyway? If yes, how can we change?
  2. How do we help people overcome emerging challenges?
  3. How much are we willing to give up in the interest of humanity’s survival? How do we plan to relinquish things that might make matters worse?
  4. What in our world can we help restore and strengthen against the coming dangers of climate change?

1. Does our existence harm anyone?

A brand might be fighting against patriarchal standards of beauty, but if its packaging ends up clogging world’s oceans, the net impact is negative, isn’t it?

The time where brands could externalise environmental costs is over. As climate change consciousness takes hold, a brand would be forced to reckon with every decision it takes, every act it perpetrates. ‘Eternal vigilance’ will be the price of humanity’s survival.

2.    How do we help people overcome emerging challenges?   

A consumer’s need is a market opportunity. With climate change, there will be newer opportunities for brands to cater to. However, unlike 20th century, where profit motive and shareholder returns were the Raison D’être of corporate (and hence brands) existence; 21st century brands cannot afford to be sociopathic. Profit must be balanced against ensuring equitable access. As economic inequality increases, brands that profiteer are bound to tip the world towards violence and anarchy.

3.     How much are we willing to give up in the interest of humanity’s survival? How do we plan to relinquish things that might make matters worse?

Going forward, relinquishment would be an integral part of our way of life. We can’t have it all. Science tells us that there are limits to resource exploitation and their rate of renewal.

This impacts the fundamental aspect of capitalist economies: competition. Competition can’t externalise its cost anymore. Competition can’t run unchecked.

Industries and brands would need to compete in a new scenario where the most aggressive player gets kicked out. Sportsmanship, if not exhibited, will be enforced soon enough with regulations.

In this scenario, brands must be willing to relinquish things that might give them an advantage but are detrimental to people. Can brands relinquish profit margins that affect access to critical medicines for climate affected refugees? Can a fast food brand relinquish its star of the menu – beef burgers – to reduce methane emissions? Can an electric motor company relinquish its IP and help accelerate adoption of green tech?
Some brands are already doing the right thing. Consider Tesla and its open sourcing of IP for its electric car designs and Neuralink.

4.    What in our world can we help restore and strengthen against the coming dangers of climate change?

Would you want your children to grow up in a world where lakes don’t exist, where urban birds are extinct, where traditional dances and festivals have been confined to documentaries?

Over the last few centuries, we have been losing much of humanity’s treasure trove of indigenous knowledge systems and cultural practices. Embedded in these knowledge systems are secrets to ways of living in harmony with the world, ways of appreciating beauty, methods to survive with natural world.

 Brands can find purpose in helping restore some of these. Restore a lake, restore a cultural practice, restore a community’s way of life.

***

The world is too beautiful and wondrous to give up on. It’s time for brands to engage in good faith with the world. It’s time for brands to help humanity thrive as climate change accelerates.

I would be happy to work with brands in this journey.

Embrace complexity to navigate the complex world

This article was subsequently published in Kantar’s BrandZ 2019 report. You can access it here.

____

“The destiny of our species is shaped by the imperatives of survival on six distinct time scales. To survive means to compete successfully on all six time scales.”

– Freeman Dyson, From Eros to Gaia, NY, Pantheon, 1992

Unprecedented times

Certain insights come to fore when we retreat from the immediate and allow ourselves to see beyond ourselves – beyond the scale of an individual. In this quote, Freeman Dyson exhorts us to look at humanity from six different scales – as an individual, as a family, as a tribe/ nation, as a culture, as a species and finally as the web of life on our planet. As we zoom out, we see humanity engaging with different kinds of threats and opportunities that play out over different time horizons – from momentary to years, to millennia to eons.

Me, you and every individual before us, is part of a celestial tapestry that has weathered near extinction events, loss of entire cultures, fall of kingdoms, wars and death. Humanity has thus far, survived. Can we go on though?

Humanity survived for a million years when it couldn’t affect nature globally, where cultures lasted for millennia and remained relatively isolated, where technologies took centuries to propagate.

But, Climate Change is threatening the ‘web of life’ as you read this. Culture is being flattened with globalization. The increasing complexity of modern economy is making livelihoods volatile.

These are unprecedented times.

The Anthropocene has been an era of accelerated change brought upon by humankind. The changes are at all levels and they are multiplying.

What brought us here, will tear us apart if it continues unabated. We need a fundamentally new approach to navigate ahead. Cybernetics, a transdisciplinary approach to study complex systems, perhaps has a valuable perspective that businesses can learn from.

Economy as a complex system

Businesses do not operate in isolation. They are affected by technological changes, environmental changes, demographic changes, sociological changes and so on. There are far too many interdependent & independent variables at play here.

As such, the first thing to recognize here is that predicting these changes and preparing for them is near impossible. There goes your silver bullet.

Secondly, every action has a reaction, which in turn has a reaction, precipitating in a feedback loop. In our case, the feedback loops manifest as regulations, cultural movements such as the current swing towards nationalism across the world, refugee crisis, drop in fertility rates and so on. If you look at these trends from a ‘feedback loop’ perspective, it might help in anticipating probabilities of change much better than most current linear models (though still with high uncertainty).  

Thirdly, realise that businesses have a role to play in most of these issues. We can’t remain ignorant of our role in climate change for instance. Our ignorance and inaction will be at our peril. Businesses with long term view of their survival should work with governments to reign in businesses with short term view which might be polluting the planet, increasing inequality or threatening social order.

Lastly, realise that the rate of change especially with technological advancement will only accelerate. For a ‘constant change paradigm’, the organizational structure of businesses must fundamentally change to survive and thrive. Linear hierarchies can’t respond quickly enough. To respond rapidly, the organizational structure must allow for ‘emergence’. Emergence is the ability of a collective to do something that individuals couldn’t do on their own. Ants exhibit it when they navigate challenges to their colony or to source food, without a central decision-making body. They do so, by following a few simple principles encoded in their genes that guide their behaviour around certain stimuli.

There’s a lesson here. Organisations that institute simple principles which empower autonomous behaviours among its workforce can respond to new threats and challenges much more effectively. This is already happening to an extent with online tools that reduce much of the friction that defined business in 20th century – in raising capital (with Kickstarter), in communicating (with Slack/Whatsapp), in manufacturing (with 3d printers, Shenzhen supply chain) and so on. With on-demand manufacturing in Shenzhen, on-demand access to cloud with AWS, on-demand access to capital on Kickstarter/ VC, on-demand access to talent through gig-economy, anyone can respond to an emergent threat/ opportunity now and start an organisation.

It’s a brave new world out there. To navigate changes in these rapid waters, you will be required to take a few brave decision and pivot towards emergent organization, environmental consciousness and appreciation of the complex reality of the world. Thankfully, it has never been easier to pivot than now. Embrace the complexity, and pivot.

Summation

  1. It’s time to wake up and see businesses as part of the broader fabric of humanity.
  2. Realise that we live in an increasingly complex world.
  3. Which requires us to acknowledge our limits in anticipating future.
  4. But it does not mean we should not try. Embrace complexity and allow for uncertainty. Use the ‘feedback loop’ perspective to gain competitive edge over others who still use linear/ simplistic projections to define their business goals.
  5. Realise that we can remain ignorant about our role in climate change, at our own peril.
  6. Evolve from hierarchical structure to emergent organizational structure.

The Mad World of Monopolies Over Brains

Microsoft bought semantic machines.

Google, FB etc keep buying smart companies all the time.

A handful of global companies keep buying smart companies before they can get a product out to the market.They are essentially creating monopolistic moats over not just cutting edge intellectual property, but also the intellectuals – the men and women capable of creating/ leveraging new technologies.

So many startups now start with the end in mind, the vaulted ‘exit’. What happens when all the technological advancements get concentrated in fewer and fewer hands? The only anti-dote to Marx’s dystopia of ever accumulating capital was the intellectual capital that allowed anyone to give it a go with limited risk and succeed. Is that anti-dote of intellectual capabilities relevant any more?

Any body can learn to code, etc. But can everyone access the infrastructure and the necessary accelerating feedback loops to improve as fast as these few companies can? That pace of accelerating innovations is the new Capital for 21st century.

If we don’t want an increasingly unequal world, we will need to view this capacity to rapidly innovate as a capital that needs to be seen similarly to other capital assets – land, machinery, channels of access to consumers.

Which means, it is time for regulations. We can’t let ever fewer investors and companies to corner the ability to rapidly innovate.

This is essential. Unlike 15 years ago, when a zukerberg could code out of his dorm and build an empire. Now another zukerberg could code just as well, but if his idea & code is any good, it will either get copied by these juggernauts or get bought early on. Look at how FB is copying snapchat to its death. It is not a level playing field anymore. A successful digital company now will require a war chest of billions. There are investors ready to fund these war chests. But the problem is, that these investors are same few folks from California (and one notable Japanese guy).

There is no Nigerian, no Indian, no Brazilian, no Greek, no Swedish….(and a 190 countries later) person among those few people who control the new engine of human innovations.

A side effect of this narrow competition is the poverty of ideas that the best minds are working on – google glasses, automated vehicles, AI assistants … are these the biggest challenges for the humanity? As Climate change, growing inequality and rising xenophobia tear the world apart, should the people who can create the infrastructure of the new world be spending their times on elitist pursuits?

It is not difficult to copy them and become the new age capitalist. However they have created a high-entry barrier by turning it into a mad game of bluff. Their tactic is to value companies at ridiculous valuations. The valuation is divorced from reality and based solely on the potential of possible monopolistic leverage. Naturally, most sensible people, stay away from this capricious game.

These people are feverishly gambling with the intellectual capacity of humanity. It is a mad mad world. They need to be stopped if we want a better world.

Platform as commons

Power and public good

Most governments, as agents of power, bother about creating and maintaining public good only so far as it helps the cause of those in power. Governments are shaped by the need of those in power to remain in power. Govt can afford to bother about public good only when the electorate is wide enough – when there are many essential and influentials. (Refer ‘The dictator’s handbook‘ for the concept, or this video for a quicker appreciation of it.)

With the rise of digital platforms we have seen rise of super rich, super powerful corporations and individuals. Their rise has contributed to the the deepening of inequality. They have  boldly ‘disrupted’ lives of many for concentrated profit for a few people. Economically, platforms are disenfranchising people while creating a few super powerful elites.

What does it mean for democratic power?

Rising inequality means fewer ‘essentials’ needed for rulers to remain in power. (In a dictatorship typically, there is a ruler, a few essentials and many ‘interchangeables’: Whereas in a democracy, there is no absolute ruler, ideally there are many influencers, many essentials and few interchangeables.) Rising inequality directly affects the power and leverage that people hold. It leads to dictatorial power relationships. In a sense, in the domains of knowledge, markets and online relationships, Google, Amazon & Facebook are quite dictatorial, even if their beliefs are egalitarian. They can dictate the terms of accesses to their services. Indeed, have you ever thought of disagreeing to their ‘terms of conditions’? Is there a space to negotiate? and what happens when you start depending on these services completely, but cannot engage with these services meaningfully to negotiate with them?

When power relations are conducive for dictatorships, why would governments or corporates bother about the public good? What incentive do they have?

Platform monopolies are a threat to democracies. The possible knee jerk reaction to their hegemony, would be as well.

Facebook, Google, Amazon… are behemoths shaping our world. They are doing so not for public good, but rather private gains. Consider Amazon’s stock market performance for example. Why would people be investing in a loss making company? They are doing so for the long punt. People are investing in a monopoly of tomorrow in the form of Amazon. They are investing in Bezos’ vision of a complete monopoly. They want a piece of that monopoly’s obscenely fat profit. That is why investors allow him to put all the money at its disposal to expand its reach and locking consumers in its value chain. Consider the impending value explosion when Amazon can start leveraging the IOT (Internet of things) at its disposal – usage, user preferences, supply chain intelligence, user financial wherewithal, spy called alexa, vendor data… It is about to become the single biggest market that consumers across the world would have to deal with. It will not make economical sense for consumers to pursue an alternative. Amazon plans to be the default platform of economic exchange. Do you really want the complete global market to be owned by a few individuals?

Amazon hopes to become the ONLY global market platform for a majority of earthlings.

Similarly – Google is almost the ONLY global definitive knowledge and information platform.

Facebook hopes to be the ONLY global online relationship building platform.

Thank god, Uber faltered and hopefully can’t be the ONLY mobility platform.

Uber faltered because it very visibly threatens existing economic exchanges and consequently current livelihoods. It is visibly pitting one labour force against another. Amazon does too, though it is surprising that it hasn’t faced public wrath yet. Wars have happened for lesser losses of power & economic leverage. Consider the Knights Templar in 13th Century, the early European Banking Platform. They were burned at the stake by France’s king then, to take back the financial leverage that he had ceded to them. It is not 13th Century anymore, but it isn’t an utopia either. There are massive number of people who are getting left behind with the platform revolution and they are bound to react, in modern ways perhaps, hopefully peacefully, but there will be a reaction.

The most plausible reaction could be regulations. There is a trade-off there. The libertarian ideals of most of these platform owners meant that the digital realm was a egalitarian & non-judgemental space for conversations, exchanges. That libertarian ideal is under threat from regulations. China has successfully managed to create an internet for its citizen that is heavily censored and spied through. Unfortunately, other governments would be just as keen to use the economic loss to legacy businesses due to platforms as an excuse to change the nature of platform instead – from trustworthy exchanges to tools of surveillance.

Understanding the power of platforms

I define platforms as enabling environments/ infrastructures, that –

  1. Gives egalitarian access to other people/ services through
  2. Unique and valuable exchanges that would not be possible outside of that platform
  3. And allow people to improve upon, enrich the platform – either with APIs or engagement

Historically, such platforms were either pre-existing, or created and maintained by governments or community collectives. No private enterprise had the incentive or wherewithal to create platforms. Consider a road that gives access to people to move through that would not have been possible without it – a road is a platform then. It was cost intensive to build, so governments built it. It was a public good. It was part of the ‘commons’.

Consider a river. Communities access water for their use through it. Communities built dams, turbines, irrigation channels for the benefit of the collective. As such, a river is a platform for access to water that is also a part of ‘commons’. No one, in right conscience, would think of owning it.

Consider the 6 inch of top soil that the earth is blessed with. Without it humanity would not have existed. It is the platform of food supply. It enables farming, forests and the food cycle. No one can own it, unless they want to destroy humanity.

Consider the renewable energy decentralised grid that is powering much of Denmark. In this grid, people with solar panels installed on their roofs, sell their surplus electricity to the grid and can tap into that grid electricity when they are in want. Now this is a platform with an exchange of electric power too. Many private companies facilitated its creation, installation and maintenance.  However, they don’t stake a claim on the electricity thus generated. They understand themselves as enablers, not usurpers or rent-seekers.

Soil, water, electricity, roads… these are fundamentally empowering platforms, the access to which is a fundamental human right.

In the 21st century, similar access to knowledge, financial exchange, access to markets, relationships-at-distance… are all fundamental human rights.

Can you imagine a life today without being plugged into these various platforms? Such a life is possible, but it would be very disadvantageous for the minority activist. Without access to google & FB powered intelligence and communication, without amazon’s substantially cheaper goods, without uber’s efficient mobility, without convenience of credit cards/e-money, the minority activist is at a severe disadvantage.

So if these accesses are that crucial, can we trust them with far removed private interests? Typically, a white male from California is embedding his biases in these platform’s algorithms. A few of these men own the vast platforms that men and women from the farthest corners of the globe depend on. Even if they were to be epitome of moral righteousness (which they clearly aren’t), they are still just individuals amenable to influence of their investors, their immediate social circle, the government where they operate from. Consider Facebook’s misuse to influence election in US for example.

There is a fundamental conflict of interest. Lack of subjectivity allows for evils such as hate speech to gain access. But imposing a certain subjectivity curtails freedom of speech for another set of people, perhaps as an unintended consequence. There is no easy way out of this catch-22 situation. Consider the example of facebook banning breastfeeding pictures. It had to #freethenipple eventually. But the same issue will get vastly different responses in more conservative countries. How does a global platform manage such differences? Facebook is trying its luck with denial – “we are not a media company“.
But soon enough, it will have to take sides. Like when Scott Galloway implies for it to be American first!

In his otherwise excellent talk here exhorting these big platforms to be broken up, he brings in nationalism and suggests a smaller solution – to break them up. If global platforms earn revenues through global operations, why should they put any one nation first? Why should they prioritise paying tax in one country? They must give back in every country where it gains from. To be a global entity is to be globally accountable, globally responsible, globally adaptable.
Secondly, the solution of breaking the companies up – is inadequate. If the ownership does not change, what difference does it make if Zuckerberg presides over one large corporate or a dozen smaller ones to the same effect?

Besides, the integration of amazon, aws, alexa etc makes sense. It makes markets more efficient. The aggregate efficiency due to integration increases, which is good news for Humans who are going to soon suffer with human-excess-led climate change.

Scott Galloway has a soft corner for capitalism and its potential. He doesn’t want to see the obvious socialist ramifications of his argument.

Platforms as commons ruled by the principle of self-rule

The integrated platforms are powerfully useful for all. They should not be broken up.  The ownership has to be broken up. More accurately, they should not be privately owned at all. Private ownership creates disparity of wealth, invites biases and prioritizes innovations that serve the needs of elite, instead of the majority. And unlike other businesses, platforms are critically important for civic life. Would you want water, road or soil to be privatised? For the 21st century that list will include mobility, relationship, intelligence and market platforms too.

Ideally Bezos, Zuck and Sergey should create a plan to divest their companies’ ownership to the commons. They should steward their companies into becoming true platforms relinquishing their direct control. If Buffett and Bill Gates can give away their wealth, why can’t these platform makers instead give away control? Keep the wealth created thus far. Let the future wealth go into commons to make the platforms more resilient, useful and responsive to the diversity of the global exchanges.

Imagine all these platforms employing open source principles, becoming openly accessible, and evolving with the people they serve.

Imagine, all cab drivers, logistic companies, courier companies having access to the Uber algorithm, modified to serve their needs; modified to give every driver and rider a say in formulating the policies that govern them  and others like them in their locality. Imagine, all businessmen and individuals with access to amazon-based markets, governed by direct digital referendum based consensus making.

Amazon and Uber cut out the middle men. In turn they themselves became giant middlemen. It is time we do away with them too.

A solution like this would not have been possible 5 years ago. But with blockchain technology, there is a potential for mass democratic participation in platform management.

Blockchain based democratic platform management

Blockchain is an elegant solution to an important societal problem Earth is facing. It’s most promising feature is its ability to enable strangers to cooperate and trust each other. It enables ‘decentralised consensus’. This is a powerful ability that, I believe, has the biggest possible impact in democratic processes in every aspect of civic enterprise.

This technology would enable governing of platform by direct participation and consensus among users and vendors possible.

Watch this interesting documentary by Mr. Jeremy Rifkin. He talks about the three essential enterprises that shape us – energy, communications and mobility. And with digital technology and principles of open source, humanity can finally increase the aggregate efficiencies, productivity of human enterprise and bring down marginal costs of these enterprises down to almost zero. Why does this matter? Because, without this idea, we are at an economic and ecological dead-end.

Again like Mr. Scott Galloway, Mr. Rifkin too is afraid to unsettle the capitalists and shies away from taking his argument to logical conclusion. (look how he cleverly deflects the TTIP question. I won’t hold it against him though. He has a great idea and he needs to sell that idea to humanity. Tact is more powerful than hardheadedness when you want to bring about real change.)

Now consider this – every conceivable platform – energy platform, utilities platform, knowledge platform, mobility platform, market platform… Consider all platform are components of collectively owned infrastructure for humanity. Like with renewable energy platform in Europe, there might be an initial cost that consumers and vendors would have to pay in the form of taxes to help build them or buy them off. But then the marginal cost of running them in the future is minimal.

Imagine that world – People being able to access platform services in their context whenever they want, on their terms and without the fear of losing control of one’s own agency, one’s own destiny.

I believe that that would be a better world – a world which won’t depend on a single currency (read the first section on the link to understand why single currency ‘money’ is not that good an idea). The integrated platforms would enable seamless exchanges of products and services, the utility of the individual to the collective becoming the currency du jour.

The world would not need the ‘universal basic income’ that is being touted now as the solution to the impending mass class of ‘useless people’ and the Goliathan inequality that AI revolution will engender. If we charter an integrated platform access to all humanity as a human right, we will, in a sense, enable basic welfare of all individuals. Rifkin’s view of bringing the marginal cost down to zero is critical here… which means that there is gradual upfront cost of creating that infrastructure, that integrated platform of platforms. But once that is done, the costs would be manageable.

To make it a reality, it will require a ‘disruptive’ shift in corporate ownership, structures of governance and redrawing of notional national boundaries. All tall orders. It is a humongous project that would pan the globe and require cooperation among all governments. Not an easy task at all. But I am convinced of it being an essential disruption. Let me know if you have a better idea.