Thursday, October 30, 2008

Why Societies Collapse

In the video, Jared Diamond, author of Germs, Guns & Steel, describes his five point system for examining whether a society will collapse or not. The five conditions are:

1. Human impact on the environment: Inadvertently destroying the resource they depend upon
2. Climate change: Inability to cope with change
3. Relationships with friendly neighboring societies: How they help in times of crisis
4. Relationships with hostile societies: How they prevent perceiving other threats
5. Political, economic, social, and cultural factors in a society that enable the society to perceive and solve its problems.

In seems to me that this is very worthy of discussing. Can we apply these five factors to the US right now?

We are in a crisis right now that is economic, cultural, societal, political, demographic and environmental. If this is a topic you’d like to pursue, respond to this blog.

Why Societies Collapse

Why do societies fail? With lessons from the Norse of Iron Age Greenland, deforested Easter Island and present-day Montana, Jared Diamond talks about the signs that collapse is near, and how -- if we see it in time -- we can prevent it.

A globally renowned scholar and author, Jared Diamond finds answers to the massive "Why?"s in so-vast-you-don't-notice patterns in history. His bestselling and Pulitzer-winning book Guns, Germs and Steel looks at the reasons history turned out the way it did -- why European societies conquered the rest of the world instead of the other way around. His latest book, Collapse, asks nearly the opposite: Why do some civilizations fail?

An ecologist, evolutionary biologist and professor of geography and physiology at UCLA, Diamond takes an approach that goes beyond culture and into the impact it has on the environment. As Malcolm Gladwell observes, "Diamond's distinction between social and biological survival is a critical one, because too often we blur the two." Diamond's ability to tackle daunting questions (and pose unsettling answers) in a straightforward voice may be reason enough to share his optimism that recognizing a problem paves the way for solving it.

Educators' tip: The website for PBS's mini-series Guns, Germs and Steel offers many resources for further study.

"[Guns, Germs and Steel] is a brilliantly written, passionate, whirlwind tour through 13,000 years of history on all the continents -- a short history of everything about everybody."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Where Is Democracy Headed?

Deliberative Democracy Consortium

During four years of work—meetings, conversations at a distance, collaborative projects, and publications—an international network of researchers and practitioners has strengthened our knowledge of public deliberation. Members of this network have investigated a growing body of practical experience with deliberation that
employs diverse methods and tools.

The use of deliberative methods, while still not enormously common, is clearly growing. Often, these methods have been found to have positive effects on the participants and on public policy. One of the most serious challenges remains attracting truly representative samples of people to deliberate. However, when citizens with unequal status, information, education, and communication skills come together, they can achieve reasonable
levels of equality.

Today’s cultural and political context is difficult for deliberation. We live at a time of polarization and often nasty politics. This difficult context, however, also offers opportunities to expand deliberation as an antidote to aspects of politics that many citizens and leaders strongly dislike.

An increasing supply of research is now derived from practical experiences in public deliberation. Useful bridges have been built between academics and practitioners, although further attention is needed. The research is increasingly open to alternative forms of communication: not just the giving of reasons, but also the sharing of personal experiences, planning for action, and artistic expressions like storytelling, music, and performance, in
relation to deliberation.

We have learned a great deal about how to “embed” deliberation in the life of communities. However, certain types of issues seem more ripe for deliberation than others; and people vary in their predisposition to deliberation.

As next steps, the 'eld must provide hard-nosed evaluations that will be proof-points for practitioners (if the results are positive) or provide an impetus to change our methods. There is some support for moving away from analyzing the differences among methods and instead focusing on how to institutionalize deliberation, expand its scale, and connect it to other democratic practices, such as advocacy and movement-building. Two critical sources of innovation are the Global South and the Internet.

Read the Report

Monday, October 27, 2008

Flow in Everyday Life

Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi asks, "What makes a life worth living?" Noting that money cannot make us happy, he looks to those who find pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities that bring about a state of "flow."

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives. A leading researcher in positive psychology, he has devoted his life to studying what makes people truly happy: "When we are involved in [creativity], we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life." He is the architect of the notion of "flow" -- the creative moment when a person is completely involved in an activity for its own sake.

Csikszentmihalyi teaches psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University, focusing on human strengths such as optimism, motivation and responsibility. He's the director the the Quality of Life Research Center there. He has written numerous books and papers about the search for joy and fulfillment.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Web and TV, a sibling rivalry

In this absorbing look at emerging media and tech history, Peter Hirshberg shares some crucial lessons from Silicon Valley and explains why the web is so much more than "better TV."

A Silicon Valley executive, entrepreneur and marketing specialist, Peter Hirshberg might just be the definitive voice on how new technology affects business and culture.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Emergence's Steven Johnson says the Web is like a city: built by many people, completely controlled by no one, intricately interconnected and yet functioning as many independent parts. While disaster strikes in one place, elsewhere, life goes on.

Steven Berlin Johnson is the best-selling author of six books on the intersection of science, technology and personal experience. His forthcoming book examines "Where Good Ideas Come From."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google

Nicholas Carr, author of Does IT Matter?, has written a provocative and insightful book about the big switch that we are undergoing with respect to information technology infrastructure. He provides a persuasive historical analogy that computer utilities will replace in house computer facilities.

Carr sums up the basic premise in this way, “Why has computing progressed in such a seemingly dysfunctional way? Why has the personalization of computers been accompanied by such complexity and waste? The reason is fairly simple. It comes down to two laws. The first and most famous was formulated in 1965 by the brilliant Intel engineer Gordon Moore. Moore's Law says that the power of microprocessors doubles every year or two. The second was proposed in the 1990s by Moore's equally distinguished colleague Andy Grove. Grove's Law says that telecommunications bandwidth doubles only every century. Grove intended his "law" more as a criticism of what he considered a moribund telephone industry than as a statement of technological fact, but it nevertheless expresses a basic truth: throughout the history of computing, processing power has expanded far more rapidly than the capacity of communication networks. This discrepancy has meant that a company can only reap the benefits of advanced computers if it installs them in its own offices and hooks them into its own local network. As with electricity in the time of direct-current systems, there's been no practical way to transport computing power efficiently over great distances.”

“’The next sea change is upon us’ Those words appeared in an extraordinary memorandum that Bill Gates sent to Microsoft’s top managers and engineers on October 30, 2005. Bely its bland title, ‘Internet Software Services,’ the memo was intended to sound an alarm, to warn the company that the rise of utility computing threatened to destroy its traditional business.”

Microsoft has dominated the PC desktop. What was emerging was a totally different kind of business – software as a service. Something we now call SaaS. This new way to look at software will be very disruptive.

In 2005, Google began work on its Dalles, OR computing utility facility. “The town's remoteness would make it easier for Google to keep the facility secure-and harder for its employees to be lured away by competitors. More important, the town had ready access to the two resources most critical to the data center's efficient operation: cheap electricity and plentiful bandwidth. Google would be able to power its computers with the electricity produced by the many hydroelectric dams along the Columbia, particularly the nearby The Dalles dam with its 1.8-gigawatt generating station. It would also be able to temper its demand for electricity by tapping the river's icy waters to help cool its machines. As for bandwidth, the town had invested in building a large fiber-optic data network with a direct link to an international Internet hub in nearby Harbour Pointe, Washington. The network provided the rich connection to the Internet that Google needed to deliver its services to the world's Web surfers.” Carr speculates that in the future we may look back on this endeavor much as we now look back on Insull’s early electricity generating plants.

One of the first really successful implementations of SaaS was SalesForce, a CRM application. Marc Benioff, who left Oracle to found SalesForce, proclaimed the end of software as we know it. “As it turned out, the idea of software-as-a-service caught on even more quickly than Benioff expected. In 2002, the firm's sales hit $50 million. Just five years later, they had jumped tenfold, to $500 million. It wasn't just small companies that were buying its service, though they had constituted the bulk of the earliest subscribers. Big companies like SunTrust, Merrill Lynch, Dow Jones, and Perkin-Elmer had also begun to sign up, often abandoning their old in-house systems in the process. Benioff's audacious gamble, like Insull's a century earlier, had panned out. As for the once mighty Siebel Systems, it had gone out of business as a stand-alone company. After suffering a string of deep losses in the early years of the decade, it was bought up in early 2006 by Benioff's old company, Oracle.”

Amazon launched the first utility computing service in March, 2006. They allowed customers to store data on Amazon’s systems for a few cents per gigabyte per month.

One of the things that I really like the way Carr writes is that he mixes so many different perspectives and insights. “In the early decades of the twentieth century, as punch-card tabulators and other computing machines gained sophistication, mathematicians and businessmen began to realize that, in the words of one historian, ‘information is a commodity that can be processed by a machine.’ Although it now sounds obvious, it was a revolutionary insight, one that fueled the growth and set the course of the entire computer industry, particularly the software end of it, and that is now transforming many other industries and reshaping much of the world's economy. As the price of computing and bandwidth has plunged, it has become economical to transform more and more physical objects into purely digital goods, processing them with computers and transporting and trading them over networks.”

And, later, “Until recently, most information goods were also subject to diminishing returns because they had to be distributed in physical form. Words had to be printed on paper, moving pictures had to be captured on film, software code had to be etched onto disks. But because the Internet frees information goods from their physical form, turning them into entirely intangible strings of ones and zeroes, it also frees them from the law of diminishing returns. A digital good can be replicated endlessly for essentially no cost-its producer does not have to increase its purchases of inputs as its business expands. Moreover, through a phenomenon called the network effect, digital goods often become more valuable as more people use them. Every new member that signs up for Skype, puts an ad on Craigslist, or posts a profile on PlentyOfFish increases the value of the service to every other member. Returns keep growing as sales or use expands-without limit.”

One of the big factors that is contributing to the rising productivity of computers is social production (the social web and collaboration). “Whereas industrialization in general and electrification in particular created many new office jobs even as they made factories more efficient, computerization is not creating a broad new class of jobs to take the place of those it destroys. As Autor, Levy, and Murnane write, computerization ‘marks an important reversal. Previous generations of high technology capital sharply increased demand for human input of routine information-processing tasks, as seen in the rapid rise of the clerking occupation in the nineteenth century. Like these technologies, computerization augments demand for clerical and information-processing tasks. But in contrast to [its] predecessors, it permits these tasks to be automated.’ Computerization creates new work, but it's work that can be done by machines. People aren't necessary.

That doesn't mean that computers can take over all the jobs traditionally done by white-collar workers. As the scholars note, ‘Tasks demanding flexibility, creativity, generalized problem-solving and complex communications-what we call nonroutine cognitive tasks-do not (yet) lend themselves to computerization.’ That parenthetical ‘yet,’ though, should give us pause. As the power and usefulness of networked computers have advanced during the few years since they wrote their paper, we've seen not only the expansion of software's capabilities but the flowering of a new phenomenon that is further reducing companies' need for workers. Commonly termed ‘social production,’ the phenomenon is reshaping the economics of the media, entertainment, and software industries, among others. In essence, it allows many of those ‘nonroutine cognitive tasks’ that require ‘flexibility, creativity, generalized problem-solving and complex communications’ to be carried out for free-not by computers on the network but by people on the network.”

An example familiar to everyone is YouTube. All the users provide the content, catalogue and rate is value. Wikipedia is another example.

Why do people contribute? Carr lists several reasons:

* They contribute without knowing it (i.e. search engines)
* Self interest (i.e. tools they use to help them for free and results are shared like
* Competitive or status seeking (i.e. Wikipedia)
* Enjoyment

And, I would add, altruism.

Ubiquitous inexpensive computing and communications with a constant flow of new software applications are fueling this phenomena. “In his book The Wealth of Networks, Yale law professor Yochai Benkler traces the recent explosion in social production to three technological advances. ‘First, the physical machinery necessary to participate in information and cultural production is almost universally distributed in the population of the advanced economies,’ he writes. ‘Second, the primary raw materials in the information economy, unlike the physical economy, are [freely available] public goods-existing information, knowledge, and culture.’ Finally, the Internet provides a platform for distributed, modular production that ‘allows many diversely motivated people to act for a wide range of reasons that, in combination, cohere into new useful information, knowledge, and cultural goods.’”

One of the reasons all of this works is the connection between people and the community it creates. “Richard Barbrook, of the University of Westminster in London, expressed this view well in his 1998 essay 'The Hi-Tech Gift Economy.' He wrote of Internet users:

‘Unrestricted by physical distance, they collaborate with each other without the direct mediation of money or politics. Unconcerned about copyright, they give and receive information without thought of payment. In the absence of states or markets to mediate social bonds, network communities are instead formed through the mutual obligations created by gifts of time and ideas.’"

This a book to be read and discussed.

The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google
Nicholas Carr
WW Norton & Company, NY, 2008, 278 pp

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

by Richard Brautigan (1967)

I'd like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think

* (right now, please!)

of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think

* (it has to be!)

of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

What do you think of now when you read this poem?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Global and Local Needs for Innovation

We are trapped in a paradigm of electricity and oil, among many others. How many applications could be preformed without either?

How many other global or local needs require innovation that we can provide?

A Refrigerator that Works Without Electricity
Adam Grosser talks about a project to build a refrigerator that works without electricity -- to bring the vital tool to villages and clinics worldwide. Tweaking some old technology, he's come up with a system that works.

One Laptop per Child
Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Laboratory, describes how the One Laptop Per Child project will build and distribute the "$100 laptop."

How many other examples can you identify?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Collecting and Displaying Stories

Jonathan Harris's work defies characterization. It is part art, part technology, and part the visual display of data. It is creative, and amazing. it is also a glimpse into the future.

View the video and then visit the web sites below to explore in more depth:

And, some additional information:

How artists are mining data sets to make you see the unseen.
By Amanda Schaffer

The Numerati

The Numerati
By: Stephen Baker

Book review by 800ceoread

An urgent look at how a global math elite is predicting and altering our behavior -- at work, at the mall, and in bed.

Every day we produce loads of data about ourselves simply by living in the modern world: we click web pages, flip channels, drive through automatic toll booths, shop with credit cards, and make cell phone calls. Now, in one of the greatest undertakings of the twenty-first century, a savvy group of mathematicians and computer scientists is beginning to sift through this data to dissect us and map out our next steps. Their goal? To manipulate our behavior -- what we buy, how we vote -- without our even realizing it.

In this tour de force of original reporting and analysis, journalist Stephen Baker provides us with a fascinating guide to the world we're all entering -- and to the people controlling that world. The Numerati have infiltrated every realm of human affairs, profiling us as workers, shoppers, patients, voters, potential terrorists -- and lovers. The implications are vast. Our privacy evaporates. Our bosses can monitor and measure our every move (then reward or punish us). Politicians can find the swing voters among us, by plunking us all into new political groupings with names like "Hearth Keepers" and "Crossing Guards." It can sound scary. But the Numerati can also work on our behalf, diagnosing an illness before we're aware of the symptoms, or even helping us find our soul mate. Surprising, enlightening, and deeply relevant, The Numerati shows how a powerful new endeavor -- the mathematical modeling of humanity -- will transform every aspect of our lives.


Crowd Sourcing

Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business
By: Jeff Howe

Review by 800ceoread

First identified by journalist Jeff Howe in a June 2006 Wired article, “crowdsourcing” describes the process by which the power of the many can be leveraged to accomplish feats that were once the province of the specialized few. Howe reveals that the crowd is more than wise—it’s talented, creative, and stunningly productive. Crowdsourcing activates the transformative power of today’s technology, liberating the latent potential within us all. It’s a perfect meritocracy, where age, gender, race, education, and job history no longer matter; the quality of work is all that counts; and every field is open to people of every imaginable background. If you can perform the service, design the product, or solve the problem, you’ve got the job.

But crowdsourcing has also triggered a dramatic shift in the way work is organized, talent is employed, research is conducted, and products are made and marketed. As the crowd comes to supplant traditional forms of labor, pain and disruption are inevitable.

Jeff Howe delves into both the positive and negative consequences of this intriguing phenomenon. Through extensive reporting from the front lines of this revolution, he employs a brilliant array of stories to look at the economic, cultural, business, and political implications of crowdsourcing. How were a bunch of part-time dabblers in finance able to help an investment company consistently beat the market? Why does Procter & Gamble repeatedly call on enthusiastic amateurs to solve scientific and technical challenges? How can companies as diverse as iStockphoto and Threadless employ just a handful of people, yet generate millions of dollars in revenue every year? The answers lie within these pages.


Monday, October 6, 2008

The Innovator's Dilemma

This book by Clayton Christensen describes why established, successful companies most often miss the disruptive innovation that radical change their industry. And, it lays out some strategies to help these companies reduce their risk of failing to take advantage of disruptive innovations.

This is a book that must be read and understood by any organization that is threatened by disruptive innovation. In today’s environment with information technologies burgeoning, and nano technologies beginning to bud, that’s every organization.

I have done something here in this book summary that I don’t often do, which is to just use the authors words to describe what the book is about and what he’s learned. But, the introduction and summary at the end of the book are written so well, that I’ll just quote him.

“This book defines the problem of disruptive technologies and describes how they can be managed, taking care to establish what researchers call the internal and external validity of its propositions.

Chapters 1 and 2 develop the failure framework in the context of the disk drive industry, and the initial pages of chapters 4 through 8 return to that industry to build a progressively deeper understanding of why disruptive technologies are such vexatious phenomena for good managers to confront successfully. The reason for painting such a complete picture of a single industry is to establish the internal validity of the failure framework. If a framework or model cannot reliably explain what happened within a single industry, it cannot be applied to other situations with confidence.

Chapter 3 and the latter sections of chapters 4 through 9 are structured to explore the external validity of the failure framework-the conditions in which we might expect the framework to yield useful insights. Chapter 3 uses the framework to examine why the leading makers of cable excavators were driven from the earthmoving market by makers of hydraulic machines, and chapter 4 discusses why the world's integrated steel makers have floundered in the face of minimill technology. Chapter 5 uses the model to examine the success of discount retailers, relative to conventional chain and department stores, and to probe the impact of disruptive technologies in the motor control and printer industries. Chapter 6 examines the emerging personal digital assistant industry and reviews how the electric motor control industry was upended by disruptive technology. Chapter 7 recounts how entrants using disruptive technologies in motorcycles- and logic circuitry dethroned industry leaders; chapter 8 shows how and why computer makers fell victim to disruption; and chapter 9 spotlights the same phenomena in the accounting software and insulin businesses.

Chapter 10 applies the framework to a case study of the electric vehicle, summarizing the lessons learned from the other industry studies, showing how they can be used to assess the opportunity and threat of electric vehicles, and describing how they might be applied to make an electric vehicle commercially successful. Chapter 11 summarizes the book's findings.

Taken in sum, these chapters present a theoretically strong, broadly valid, and managerially practical framework for understanding disruptive technologies and how they have precipitated the fall from industry leadership of some of history's best-managed companies.”

In the summary he describes seven observations:

“First, the pace of progress that markets demand or can absorb may be different from the progress offered by technology. This means that products that do not appear to be useful to our customers today (that is, disruptive technologies) may squarely address their needs tomorrow. Recognizing this possibility, we cannot expect our customers to lead us toward innovations that they do not now need.

Therefore, while keeping close to our customers is an important management paradigm for handling sustaining innovations, it may provide misleading data for handling disruptive ones. Trajectory maps can help to analyze conditions and to reveal which situation a company faces.

Second, managing innovation mirrors the resource allocation process: Innovation proposals that get the funding and manpower they require may succeed; those given lower priority, whether formally or de facto, will starve for lack of resources and have little chance of success. One major reason for the difficulty of managing innovation is the complexity of managing the resource allocation process. A company's executives may seem to make resource allocation decisions, but the implementation of those decisions is in the hands of a staff whose wisdom and intuition have been forged in the company's mainstream value network: They understand what the company should do to improve profitability. Keeping a company successful requires that employees continue to hone and exercise that wisdom and intuition. This means, however, that until other alternatives that appear to be financially more attractive have disappeared or been eliminated, managers will find it extraordinarily difficult to keep resources focused on the pursuit of a disruptive technology.

Third, just as there is a resource allocation side to every innovation problem, matching the market to the technology is another. Successful companies have a practiced capability in taking sustaining technologies to market, routinely giving their customers more and better versions of what they say they want. This is a valued capability for handling sustaining innovation, but it will not serve the purpose when handling disruptive technologies. If, as most successful companies try to do, a company stretches or forces a disruptive technology to fit the needs of current, mainstream customers-as we saw happen in the disk drive, excavator, and electric vehicle industries-it is almost sure to fail. Historically, the more successful approach has been to find a new market that values the current characteristics of the disruptive technology. Disruptive technology should be framed as a marketing challenge, not a technological one.

Fourth, the capabilities of most organizations are far more specialized and context-specific than most managers are inclined to believe. This is because capabilities are forged within value networks. Hence, organizations have capabilities to take certain new technologies into certain markets. They have disabilities in taking technology to market in other ways. Organizations have the capability to tolerate failure along some dimensions, and an incapacity to tolerate other types of failure. They have the capability to make money when gross margins are at one level, and an inability to make money when margins are at another. They may have the capability to manufacture profitably at particular ranges of volume and order size, and be unable to make money with different volumes or sizes of customers. Typically, their product development cycle times and the -steepness of the ramp to production that they can negotiate are set in the context of their value network.

All of these capabilities-of organizations and of individuals-are defined and refined by the types of problems tackled in the past, the nature of which has also been shaped by the characteristics of the value networks in which the organizations and individuals have historically competed. Very often, the new markets enabled by disruptive technologies require very different capabilities along each of these dimensions.

Fifth, in many instances, the information required to make large and decisive investments in the face of disruptive technology simply does not exist. It needs to be created through fast, inexpensive, and flexible forays into the market and the product. The risk is very high that any particular idea about the product attributes or market applications of a disruptive technology may not prove to be viable.

Failure and iterative learning are, therefore, intrinsic to the search for success with a disruptive technology. Successful organizations, which ought not and cannot tolerate failure in sustaining innovations, find it difficult simultaneously to tolerate failure in disruptive ones.

Although the mortality rate for ideas about disruptive technologies is high, the overall business of creating new markets for disruptive technologies need not be inordinately risky. Managers who don't bet the farm on their first idea, who leave room to try, fail, learn quickly, and try again, can succeed at developing the understanding of customers, markets, and technology needed to commercialize disruptive innovations.

Sixth, it is not wise to adopt a blanket technology strategy to be always a leader or always a follower. Companies need to take distinctly different postures depending on whether they are addressing a disruptive or a sustaining technology. Disruptive innovations entail significant first-mover advantages: Leadership is important. Sustaining situations, however, very often do not. The evidence is quite strong that companies whose strategy is to extend the performance of conventional technologies through consistent incremental improvements do about as well as companies whose strategy is to take big, industry leading technological leaps.

Seventh, and last, the research summarized in this book suggests that there are powerful barriers to entry and mobility that differ significantly from the types defined and historically focused on by economists. Economists have extensively described barriers to entry and mobility and how they work. A characteristic of almost all of these formulations, however, is that they relate to things, such as assets or resources, that are difficult to obtain or replicate. Perhaps the most powerful protection that small entrant firms enjoy as they build the emerging markets for disruptive technologies is that they are doing something that it simply does not make sense for the established leaders to do. Despite their endowments in technology, brand names, manufacturing prowess, management experience, distribution muscle, just plain cash, successful companies populated by good managers have a genuinely hard time doing what does not fit their model for how to make money. Because disruptive technologies rarely make sense during the years when investing in them is important, most conventional managerial wisdom at established firms constitutes an entry and mobility barrier that entrepreneurs and investors can bank on. It is powerful and pervasive.”

The Innovator’s Dilemma
Clayton M. Christensen
Harper Business Essentials, 2002, 261 pp

Brother Can You Spare a Dime

I was born during the great depression in the US that lasted 19 years. Although I was only two when the depression officially ended, I am a child of the depression. It still colors how I think about business and government.

I remembered the song "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime" the other day while contemplating the possibility of a depression as a result of the financial crisis we find ourselves in now.

The lyrics are listed below and you can listed to the song below.

The basic theme of the song is betrayal. And, while the examples of betrayal mentioned in the lyrics are somewhat dated, many could now also feel betrayed.

"Brother, Can You Spare a Dime," lyrics by Yip Harburg, music by Jay Gorney (1931)

They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob,
When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job.
They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,
Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad; now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?
Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;
Once I built a tower, now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
And I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Why don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
And I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Say, don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Socerer's Apprentice

The story of the sorcerer's apprentices came into my mind after watching the gyrations of our government trying to figure out how to stop the dreaded economic slide.

I'm sure you remember the story. A sorcerer has an apprentice who does all the hard work. When the sorcerer leaves one day, the apprentice has the idea that he could eliminate all his hard work if he could get an inanimate broom to do it for him. He's watched the sorcerer and remembers the magic words. So, he thinks, nothing to it. He tries the magic words and the broom becomes animated and follows his orders. The task he gives the broom is to carry water. All goes well until he tries to stop the broom. He can't. To make matters worse when he tries to sop the broom by chopping it with an axe, all the splinters become animated and a cascade of water results. Fortunately, the sorcerer returns in time to save the apprentice from drowning. He stops the brooms and the world returns to what it was in the past.

You may remember the Disney animated version of story. You can watch it below. it's actually a very powerful visualization of the story. When you watch it, observe carefully how the images are used to create a pretty accurate retelling of the tale without words.

What you may not remember is that the original story was created by Goethe in a poem Der Zauberlehrling.. You can read it here in both German and English.

What's missing from the Disney version of the story is the ending.. The apprentice begs the master, "...from the spirits I have called, sir, deliver me."

Many apprentices have called forth spirits and created a mess. Now they beg the master, we the people, to deliver them from these spirits.

Goethe's poem ends with the master saying, "Be thou as thou wert before! Until I, the real master call thee forth to serve once more."

Unfortunately, even if we wished it, we can return to the way things were. Our only choice is to live in an even more complex world that those apprentices in business, finance and government have created for us.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Conversational Capital

The business world is abuzz about the power of word-of-mouth. And yet the discussion swirls around how talk is transmitted, not how it's created. This is a book about turning the tables - a set of ideas that teach marketers how to create the ingredients necessary for word-of-mouth.

The promise of this philosophy is a means by which to:

* Create products and services that consumers find truly significant
* Enhance consumption experiences to transform your brands into market leaders
* Manage and control word-of-mouth around your brand

Drawing on their extensive experience in fostering leading brands, the authors reveal the triggers of word-of-mouth and outline a process for embedding them into your products, helping you create stuff people love to talk about. From Bertrand Cesvet, Tony Babinski and Eric Alper, members of SID LEE, a leading purveyor of experiential design and communications service for breakthrough brands including Cirque du Soleil, adidas and Red Bull.