About Nigel Cameron

Writer; think tank director “Asking Tomorrow’s Questions” Speaking managed by ATG│Chartwell US: ellis@americantalentgroup.com, Global: alexh@chartwellpartners.co.uk Nigel Cameron has extensive experience as a keynote speaker and in facilitating high-level conversations focused on the future – crossing disciplinary lines and bringing together participants with diverse opinions and backgrounds. His emphasis is on reframing issues, welcoming outlier opinions, and pressing for a positive sum outcome that recognizes differences and engages them. A citizen of the United States and the UK, he has worked on both sides of the Atlantic and travels widely. He recently chaired GITEX 2015 in Dubai and will be chair of the Future Technology 2016. In one year he addressed conferences on all five continents, including the biennial innovation festival hosted by Australian finance giant AMP in Sydney, and Nanomedicine 2010 Beijing. He was the sole US-based plenary speaker at “the world’s leading conference on content marketing,” the 2011 Content Summit. Other recent engagements include the UN-affiliated Rio+ 20 Planet under Pressure event (London), and the opening keynote at the European Identity and Cloud Conference (Munich, Germany). His unusually wide experience includes serving on U.S delegations to the UN General Assembly and UNESCO; three periods as an executive-in-residence at UBS Wolfsberg (Switzerland); testimony on technology policy and values issues before the U.S House and Senate, the European Parliament, the European Commission’s advisory Group on Ethics, the German Bundestag, and the UK Parliament; and co-chairing a nonpartisan panel that advised the UK Conservative Party on emerging technologies and health policy. In the early 2000s, he was an invited non-federal participant in the Department of State-led Project Horizon, 3-year scenario-based strategic planning process. He has appeared on network media in several countries, including in the U.S. ABC Nightline and PBS Frontline; and in the UK the BBC flagship shows Newsnight and Breakfast with Frost. With a strong academic background together with an M.B.A. he has developed projects focusing integrative approaches to new technologies both in the academic/business context (at the Illinois Institute of Technology) and in the policy community (Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies in Washington, DC). He hosted a succession of annual policy conferences on nanotechnology at the National Press Club, which led to the publication of Nanoscale: Issues and Perspectives for the Nano Century (Wiley). Among Washington events in 2011 he hosted a series of roundtables on impacts of new technologies (risk, intellectual property, change), co-sponsored by the Intel-led Task Force on American Innovation; and was invited to moderate panels on the security implications of the “Arab spring” for weapons (WMD) control. He regularly hosts teleconferences with thought leaders such as Wired Magazine founder Kevin Kelly, former Lockheed-Martin chairman Norman Augustine, CEA president Gary Shapiro, innovation leader Vivek Wadhwa and White House technology policy lead Tom Kalil. Other teleconferences have focused emerging issues in cybersecurity, and the future of on internet governance with Ambassador Philip Verveer and others. In Silicon Valley he hosted a breakfast for the venture community to discuss his provocative commentary on the innovation gap between the west coast and Washington, How to Bridge the Continental Divide. Other recent commentaries that have generated thoughtful interest in Washington and further afield: on NASA, and Washington’s core problem thinking about the future. He has written a monthly column for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the latest issues in corporate social responsibility and his op-eds include several for the San Francisco Chronicle on emerging issues in technology and policy. In 2015-16 he is Fulbright Visiting Research Professor in Science and Society in the University of Ottawa, Canada.

Alibaba’s IPO and Distorted Corporate Governance

Buried beneath the huge IPO valuation of Alibaba lie anxieties about its corporate structure, which though in a different form echoes those of corporations as diverse as Facebook and the Murdoch companies in denying full authority to stockholders. Whether though the traditional two classes of shares, or Alibaba’s somewhat original arrangement, you can own a share of the company without an equivalent say in how it is run.

There are arguments pro and con such arrangements. In the context of start-ups, the case tends to be that it is vital to keep the founder(s) engaged and at the helm even after capitalization and formal ownership become dispersed. The case with established corporations is more murky. There is significant risk attached to such arrangements, and they plainly fly in the face of any general considerations of good governance. It is as if the standard (and grave) difficulties inherent in the “principal-agent problem” become a platform for emulation and advancement. The sheer size and significance of Alibaba may perhaps raise awareness of this clutch of questions, which have come to notice mainly because of discussion of the location of the IPO. Some exchanges permit these arrangements, others do not, and trends seem to be going in both directions.

Given that transparency and general issues of governance are so central to investors’ concerns about the emergence of major Chinese companies on the global stage, no time is to be lost in building a consensus that the deviant approaches to capitalism of Murdoch and Zuckerberg should be eschewed and not seen as precedents for further prejudicing of good governance.

 

 

 

Alibaba’s IPO Puts VIE Structure in the Spotlight – Risk & Compliance – WSJ.

The Robot in the Room: Does Work have a Future?

Many of us have been following a variety of press comment on the useful Pew report on the attitudes of “experts” to the Big Question: Will robotics destroy more jobs than it creates? Since the “experts” were split almost exactly down the middle, expertise in this and related fields would seem to provide no clear wisdom on the fundamental question. And that question of course goes way, way beyond there being a net deficit of job creation. If robotics does not result in a whole slew of new jobs, and jobs that can be done by the kind of people who are around, it is likely to destroy much of the employment economy.

There are many reasons why we should see this as an uprecedented situation, at root because in robotics we are creating not adjunct tools to facilitate human productivity but a fresh species of worker.

What is clear is this: From a risk perspective, the implications of one half of the experts being correct are cataclysmic, and should be preoccupying policymakers night and day. But they aren’t.

I raised some hard questions on this theme in my recent TEDx talk in Brazil. And I plan to keep coming back to them.

http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/08/06/future-of-jobs/

Why Twitter’s IPO is looking ridiculous as well as sad

Twitter 6x6

Twitter 6×6 (Photo credit: Steve Woolf)

It’s hardly news that women don’t dominate technology companies, or indeed most companies, or governments (though the news that Rwanda‘s parliament now has 64% women members is fascinating; I wonder who will be the next president . . .). Point is: While denizens of the C Suite and Board members need to have a really smart grasp of the business, to use the old not-many-women-are-engineers defense against women high-level appointments is becoming absurd. Here, the New York Times points out that now Twitter is in process of going public, the public knows it is yet another men’s group. The board is entirely male (and, ahem, white). One woman, a new hire, Vijaya Gadde, is to be found in the executive office (she’s General Counsel).

This is ridiculous to my mind not become it isn’t “fair” (I have consistently argued that the equity case for appointing women to top jobs is both unreasonable and dumb), but because value will not be realized in this fast, fast-shifting economy without widely diverse expert perspectives at both C-Suite and director level. This is not simply an argument for women or other “diverse” groups. It’s a value-driven case for diverse thinking, including the seriously contrarian.

We have already noted that the IPO is also sad. Sad, because at some point a major social company will wake up to the fact that the logic is for social companies to be social in their governance. We need smart thinking on governance as well as technology, and smart mechanisms that will reward founders and other early risk-takers without locking up the results of their efforts with Big Oil governance. (See Facebook‘s share system, which together with its board membership and the role of its founder locates it clearly on the Carnegie/Murdoch side of history; and Twitter’s plan for a classified board. Sigh.)

We’re waiting for the tedious old-economy governance and financing approaches of these smart, C21 companies to find alignment. It has yet to happen.

http://nigelcameron.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/we-need-to-talk-about-twitter-reciprocal-knowledge-engine-plus/

https://futureofbiz.org/2012/12/11/please-may-we-have-a-social-social-network/

Curtain Is Rising on a Tech Premiere With as Usual a Mostly Male Cast – NYTimes.com.

The Tragedy of Twitter’s IPO

English: Graph of social media activities

Credit: Wikipedia

There is something quite new about social media, and it is not that it’s providing on a huge scale (of hundreds of millions) volunteer contributors of “content” that in weird and wonderful ways deliver huge sums (of billions) to those lucky entrepreneurs whose projects made it big. Well, OK, it is partly that. But if that is how we are looking at the #socmed phenomenon, we give evidence of something between severe myopeia and locked-in syndrome.

Twitter faces a double problem here. First, because of the tendency to group “social media” together (Pinterest and Twitter have about as much in common as the Stock Exchange and a town hall meeting – oh yes, people, large public rooms, engagement). From one angle it is one of the Big Four, with Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube. But that is the least interesting angle.

Second, because the world of media properties sees social media as just another one, disruptive in its own way, vacuuming up global advertising dollars and offering new channels for content acquisition and delivery, but essentially same old, same old.

These fallacies – for fallacies they are – are shared by many in the C Suites of the aforementioned companies, which may seem odd. But consider: Facebook, the social media property of social media properties, is is run with all the social sensitivity and engagement of Big Oil, or Big Banking. Or, interestingly, the Murdoch news empire (whatever its latest name is). Look at Facebook’s share structure/governance, and at its engagement with its user base (remember the shananigans over voting for changes? o my goodness). It is one of the least “social” companies on the planet.

Point is: There is something profound and new about “social,” but it is as subtle as it is profound, and it has left many of the engineer-innovators who gave us these behemoths as high and dry as that big majority of Fortune 500 C Suite execs who neither understand nor even use it. The point is substantive and cautionary. I do believe social is revolutionary, for business as well as for government. But these are early days, and it’s not easy to demonstrate.

What I was hoping for from the big social innovators was that they would buy deeply into the culture they were helping create. If that had happened, instead of tedious IPOs exposing these complex ecosystems to traditional market forces, we would see the development of innovative models for governance and financing. Sure, let the entrepreneurs be rewarded, and let revenue models emerge for their creations. But within structures of shared governance, whether within traditional non-profit models (a la Wikipedia, and four cheers for the great Jimmy Wales), or mutualization (users are the stockholders), or something smart we have yet to devise. These subtle products of the new economy are simply treated, when the time comes, as old economy entities. Social media cry out to be handled as our supreme social enterprise companies.

As for Twitter itself, on which  have written many times – while it has many uses (and I don’t mind if you want to follow Bieber’s publicist or your favorite brand’s marketing department, really I don’t), at its innovative heart it has developed what I’ve called a “Reciprocal Knowledge Engine” – a core mechanism for handling the explosion of knowledge, at the same time as opening up knowledge networks for much wider participation, to the massive benefit of all concerned. I trust this will survive the handing over of this precious thing to the more rudimentary end of the marketplace.

Twitter Files For IPO – Confidentially – Forbes.

Twitter: The Reciprocal Knowledge Engine

Facebook as the unsocial social network

The #MOOC Thing

I’m simply bemused. Not only are MOOCs crouching in the wings, threatening to destroy the mass-university system we have spent a century building as the capstone of our education systems. But key leaders within that system are embarking on behavior as hazardous as it comes. While entirely failing to see what lies in their future (the laying waste of all they know) they are engaged in speeding the process. It is not exactly the deer transfixed in the headlights. It is the deer rushing toward the car.

Let’s be clear. There is absolutely nothing that the massed ranks of higher educators can do to prevent what is afoot. But what they should be doing is thinking and acting strategically to engage the entire re-making of the universe of post-secondary education. Instead they are dallying, toying with it, offering sample MOOC-type courses. As if the global flood could be forestalled by the digging of ponds.

Here’s some very interesting data from one university that has been experimenting, neatly summarized by someone who has been carefully tracking the discussion.

And by the way: I am by no means uncritical of the likely impacts of MOOCs on higher ed, though they will lead to huge benefits for those who would otherwise get none of it – among other things. But the economics of AI-delivered education are unstoppable and global. The combination of ridiculous inflation in the cost of U.S. colleges, and the move of the UK to a fee-based system, will ensure their swift triumph in the Anglo-American world.

While I am at it – as I have asked before – when does USAID or some similar agency (or the Gates Foundation?) launch a full free undergraduate degree program – initially for Africa and other parts of the world? Of course, the moment it does the market for over-priced U.S. degrees will collapse.

Um, innovation is afoot . . . .And guess what, it’s disruptive. Hugely so.

 

Donald Clark Plan B: Report on 6 MOOCs turns up 10 surprises.

Five Rules as Facebook Goes Down; and what next?

Image representing MySpace as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

We’ve now had a number of these stories. Is Facebook really on the verge of becoming MySpace? It seems absurd on the face of it, as global numbers keep climbing and any company which can recruit over 1 billion users is in an enormously powerful market position. On the other hand, when numbers plateau or drop slightly – as these latest stats drawn from more than one reliable source suggest – it’s a handy reminder that not even Mark Zuckerberg’s clever creation lies beyond the effect of market forces. And, very specifically, beyond the logic of disruptive innovation.

Five observations, nay, emerging rules.

1.Whether seen as a bubble or not – the current crisis in the U.S. Postal Service offers a slow-motion parallel – Facebook is not forever. It is not “different this time.” True, some companies stick around for many years (though a comparison of top listed companies decade-by-decade is a revealing and sobering exercise). And we do need to face a special factor that I have suggested on more than one previous occasion: that the extent to which a company’s core technology and/or business model is digitally derived, that company will “age” faster. A disruption variable, perhaps. Think Built to Last – and add an accelerant.

2.Of course, Facebook’s very dominance has set it up as a target. Around the time of the IPO, I recall observing that the various global governance authorities in telecommunications, and indeed back of them the governments themselves, are unlikely to sit back while a single American company, controlled Murdoch-like and more by one individual, develops an essential monopoly of a major slice of global communications. Meanwhile, we have begun to see the slow growth of interoperability, which seems to me to ensure the doom of economic profit in social media – at least in so far as the business model depends on “social.”

3.While the lock-in impact which is the obverse of the network effect remains powerful –at least, sans more comprehensive interoperability – the entry of very large numbers of users into a multiplicity of platforms has begun to chip away substantially in this advantage which Facebook the first-mover monopolist has built. So, I was just chatting with my daughter in Google chat. She actually thought she was using Facebook. Whatever.

4.I have argued repeatedly that it is a thoroughly bad thing for Facebook and other social media to have chosen the IPO route instead of seeking innovative governance and financing models which would preserve the integrity of their alignment with their users and with their proclaimed social goals. Market pressures, and – as in this case – the increasingly intrusive and sometimes offensive presence of advertising, now interposed with messages from friends as well as making up that margin down the right-hand side, are substantially altering the Facebook experience.

5.It is of course the case as Facebook and others will argue that Western and some other markets have matured, which is a proper explanation for numbers in a report such as this. This raises various questions. One is whether “maturing” explains the drop in minutes of exposure to the site on the part of those who continue to use it. That is, does maturing mean that our interest has matured and is now declining (that is, we are getting bored)? For other, the success in China of alternative social media in the context in which many Western companies are blocked suggests that network effects are still largely confined to homogeneous language/cultural/social groups.

———————————————————————————

The bubble, at least, is contorting. We may feel for the people at HQ who live under market pressures to grow and grow and grow at a time when, that a remarkably, they have grown and come close to saturating the markets most accessible to them and in which there is a strong cultural match.

Next up?

Meanwhile, some of us expect before very long there to be the kind of services Facebook offers available either for a modest subscription or free of charge from entities designed on open principles for global interoperability, using innovative finance/governance models in which users have ownership, which will replace the flailing US Post Office and much else from the old economy with organizations that do not look as if they were built and governed by the high-tech grandchildren of Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, and Chase.

https://futureofbiz.org/2013/01/15/state-of-social-a-report-card-for-2013/

 

Numbers don’t lie: The Facebook bubble may finally burst | Digital Trends.

5 Amazing Facts about #China – #mobile and #social

A map of the world detailing population of the...

A map of the world detailing population of the world by Internet use as it exists today. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Five amazing facts about China (and much, much more in the report below)

1. China has 564 million Internet users. And every single week 1 million more join up.

2. There are more than 1.1 billion mobile subscriptions in China, with 10 million more being added every month.

3. More than 400 million Chinese access the Internet using mobile devices.

4. To gain a sense of perspective: China has more Internet users than the population of Western Europe. And more mobile users accessing the Internet than the population of the United States.

5. China‘s half-billion social media users spend an average – get this – 46 minutes a day, every day, accessing social media.

A Comprehensive Exploration of China’s Online Ecosystem | We Are Social Singapore.

So we’ve proved that women are better leaders

Leadership Forum Sept 2012

Leadership Forum Sept 2012 (Photo credit: mylearning)

Here we go again. Evidence just keeps coming in that the disregard within our corporations for the talents of women is counter-productive. And by that I do not mean to women as a group, or some notion of equality, though they both equally suffer in this process. I mean to the bottom line. And while boards are elected and executives hired with broad fiduciary responsibilities, says nothing more central than recruiting talent to bring in the moolah.

I have argued before that it has been a strategic mistake to urge corporate appointments for women as a matter of equity. That’s why I am uneasy about quotas. Because to press this as an equity issue is to frame it wrong. The equity agenda implies, even though it does not state, that there are costs which the organization needs to absorb in order to play fair. The failure to appoint women in appropriate (not equitable) numbers to senior executive posts in major corporations and to the boardrooms, far from saving resources for the organization, is plainly weakening for the company by denying it the best hires. In an earlier post I suggested this was the equivalent of discounting applications from persons living west of the Mississippi, or those with brown eyes.

My own view is that before long women will come to dominate executive leadership roles in corporate and government and nonprofit sectors alike. And the evidence is beginning to come in . So this study in Harvard Business Review demonstrates that women are superior leaders and managers in almost every category. And remember, this is in the current situation, where as we all know there are special pressures on them to perform; and where in most organizations they have little or no role in shaping the corporate culture. My take is that once this has begun to happen (and I’m not speaking simply hear of creches, job sharing, work from home, and such, but of more fundamental culture shifts),  we shall have reached a tipping point. Not that we shall quite have attained to “the end of men,” but in the higher echelons there is no question in my mind that we shall see within 20 or 25 years the emerging  mirror image of the 1950s.

Be scared, be very scared, male persons whose sense of worth and whose effectiveness in career terms is dependent on the current set of cultural assumptions which in effect use a quota system to perpetuate the dominance of male appointments. Be scared partly because the economics of the situation are against you. And, as we know, economics is a vicious adversary. It takes no prisoners. Just as MOOCs and Gcars will devastate great areas of the employment landscape, even as they provide us much cheaper education and safer cars, so the skill sets of smart hard-working men will increasing need to be retooled if they are to remain in any way competitive in an environment of rapid change and (candidly) female dominance.

Read the numbers in this study, and consider that these women leaders are outperforming their male colleagues in a cultural context designed absolutely to advantage those colleagues.

https://futureofbiz.org/2012/07/07/the-two-most-stunning-facts-about-american-business/

Are Women Better Leaders than Men? – Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman – Harvard Business Review.

Of social skeptics, Business 2.0, and Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal argued that if reason cannot be ...

Blaise Pascal argued that if reason cannot be trusted, it is a better “wager” to believe in God than not to do so. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Within the business community views of the usefulness and potential importance of social media are all over the place. At one extreme are enthusiasts who speak readily of Business 2.0 and Entrepreneurship 2.0, and claim a deep integration between building value in the 21st century and the phenomenon of social connectedness. At the other there is skepticism and – if I understand this right – unease at the extent to which evidence of the impact of social is anecdotal and, essentially, theoretical. But, as so often, to speak of the “spectrum” of opinion doesn’t catch it. So let’s frame the discussion in a triangle.

Here are the three corner positions, or vertices as triangle fans call them.

1. Gangbusters value-building through social.

2. Fringe significance.

3. Here’s the third vertex: don’t know, don’t care, feel threatened, hire kids to handle these things.

What interests and continues to concern me is the extent to which the third option remains dominant, indeed is more dominant the larger the company. As assorted surveys have shown, it is in the largest of our corporations that senior executives are least personally engaged in social. To explain this in essentially generational terms is unfair (not least to those of us who are of that generation and by no means so purblind); but there is no question that the explanation is cultural rather than analytical. That is why it is an issue of such great concern that so many leading business figures, and their organizations, have entirely failed at the most senior levels to engage in the possibilities of these now near-universal applications of novel communication technologies.

When I read these reports, I have in mind Pascal’s Wager. In one of history’s most famous memes, the 17th century French philosopher and mathematician threw down the gauntlet to those who claimed not to believe in God. If God does not exist there is no penalty for believing in him. And if he does exist, and is the kind of being who takes an interest in whether or not he has been believed in by humans (as the Judeo-Christian God plainly does), you will have, as it were, hell to pay if you fail to believe. Ergo: the rational person will believe. (Let’s not go into the question whether such a deity will look kindly upon persons deciding to believe in him as the result of a wager.)

But the point is important, in the context of fundamental shifts in social and cultural patterns which plainly have significant implications for every business (B2B as well as B2C) that go far beyond Web 1.0 catalog-ordering applications (though they should not be despised; the company named Amazon has done rather well off them). The difficulty in part lies in the fact that it is not easy to establish metrics for the effectiveness – beyond a further channel for ads and customer service –of engaging in something so wholly new as social presence. “Social” has been around for some years, and a further curiosity of the situation is the contrast between lingering uncertainty and disengagement at this point, and the very rapid pace of Moore’s-Law driven change at the level of technology. On the other hand, this contrast draws interesting attention to the fuzzy interface between digital and analog, and in particular advances in digital technology and what we may choose to call either the UX or the human dimension.

Back to point: the vertex of the triangle heavily filled with Fortune 500s even in 2013 is an oddity. It is also, potentially, on the assumption that there is some serious value to be gained from social technologies, an enormous area of opportunity; oil reserves that have yet to be explored, let alone valued, let alone exploited.

There are other ways into this debate. But I’d say to business leaders, first, don’t confuse your confusion with analysis (know your vertex!);l and, second, spend a little time thinking about Pascal.  No-one is asking you to bet the farm (or build a 747). Just to consider whether a rational position might not be somewhere along the line between the two rational vertices. And, to my mind, to consider it well worth a serious bet that it lies at least near enough to the business 2.0 enthusiasts there may be serious moolah to be had.

Pistols at dawn: Om challenges Zuck – and looks ahead

Image representing Om Malik as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

In a strong and curious post, Om Malik takes Mark Zuckerberg to task for his FWD.us push for immigration reform – while many of the titans of Silicon Valley have gaily signed on. The Zuck manifesto is here: http://www.fwd.us/immigration_reform.

It’s hard to argue with the initiative itself, and that is not quite what Om is doing. He’s raising the questions that in polite tech society one is not supposed to raise, about the fate of flyover country in post-industrial decline, and the naked power of those who control the new economy. How’s this for a contrarian claim: “Sorry Mark, but in the age of data, Facebook is Standard Oil and you are Rockefeller. ”  And as Om notes, there are plenty who work for these new knowledge companies who do not get invited to the parties and given free iPhones. What about them?

It’s a plea for comprehensive engagement in the social-political implications of the knowledge revolution. But, of course, as we have noted, that is not how Washington works, where comprehensive and integrative and long-term get no votes. To the extent that the Valley’s efforts to win attention in Washington have had success, they have fit neatly into its approach (with the single, glaring exception of the SOPA revolt; and even that was a fit since Washington knows about take-downs, novel though the methods involved were). Whether the disruptive emerging industries will be prepared to engage with the policy community to address the vast impacts of their disruption poses an interesting question, at a time when neither one nor the other seems interested. If Om Malik is interested, we should all be.

Oh yes, here’s my take on the Washington/Valley divide.

https://futureofbiz.org/ebooks-blogs/the-valleydc-divide/

 

Why I have issues with Mark Zuckerberg’s FWD.us — Tech News and Analysis.