About Nigel Cameron

Writer, conference chair, former 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.

Cucumbers and asparagus: LinkedIn Is “Preferred By Executives” – Forbes


LinkedinAnswers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here we go again. Another social media beauty contest, this time among execs who are of course perhaps the least social media savvy group of any.

Problem is, to twist a cliche, we are comping plums and mangoes. Despite its best efforts (cringe), LinkedIn – preferred by the exec class – is a very different kind of animal from Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and so on. There may be some interest among headline writers in how many hundred million users this or that site has. But the totting up becomes effete as soon as interesting questions start being asked. LinkedIn keeps trying to break out of its two useful roles (self-updating rolodex and job-hunt machine), but it will no more turn into Facebook (phew) or Twitter than a food truck.

Curious thing, this continued desire to comp stats for social media usage. It’s yet another example of the fallacy of the new normal (OK, that’s all in my next book).

Far more interesting is the fact that fully 60% of respondents use “social media” as a whole for less than one hour a week.

LinkedIn Is Preferred By Executives – Forbes.

Old Wineskins, New Wine, and Bottling up Value in Technology

John Hagel

John Hagel (Photo credit: superde1uxe)

In a brief and penetrating post, John Hagel and John Seely Brown focus the question best set up (though not by them) in the Biblical metaphor of wine and wineskins. Our institutions are the old wineskins. The new wine of disruptive technological innovation is being steadily poured into them. Its value is increasingly failing to be realized. In Hagel/Brownspeak:

we are reaching a tipping point of this exponential growth, and it is unclear how the cumulative effects of technology will reshape our economy, political systems, and collective future. One thing is clear: in the hands of existing institutions—firms, schools, non-profits, civic institutions and governments—this awesome technology will achieve only a fraction of its potential.

What is especially striking to me is that those companies and business models most closely correlated with the digital/Moore’s Law explosion are proving highly resistant to evolutionary development of their systems, assumptions, and corporate culture. Worse, some are clearly throwbacks. And there may be a principle here to be noted: That when disruptive technology drives value the companies involved will hunker down and defy any cultural alignment with the innovative principle.

I’ve written about this several times, both in  respect of Facebook’s Murdoch-style corporate governance, and the general failure of social media businesses to do anything other than follow the tired IPO route. We need congruent innovation of financing and governance models to enable these powerfully disruptive, tech-driven businesses to deliver value. Yet not only have they old-style approaches to governance, they are among the least “social” businesses on the planet. This huge disconnect has been noted far too little.

Hagel and Seely Brown are making a wider argument, but this seems to me as dramatic an example as one could find. New wine flows, and the search is on for antiquarian wineskins.

Something’s gonna give – suddenly, and with the dramatic impact that will leave the leaders of our current top social/search brands stammering with surprise. My money is on the emergence of socially-aligned governance models based on some version of mutualization and giving users ownership.

We need a social social network:



Hagel and Seely Brown:


Related articles

Of Time and Management – and Women

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 28JAN11 - Sheryl Sandberg, ...

Sheryl Sandberg at the World Economic Forum (Wikipedia)

As the “Can we have it all?” discussion moves on to “Lean in,” Yahoo recalls its homeworkers, Europe stresses over board quotas, and – just today – Mary Louise Kelly, NPR’s former Pentagon correspondent (and fellow alum of Emmanuel College, Cambridge) tells why she chose to lean out . . .; my question is, what’s the question?

That is to say, when an issue proves intractable, it is generally the case that the question’s wrong, or if not wrong that it’s not the best one to be asking. Re-frame the question and the logs unjam. (Note to self: my new website re-framing.com needs to be activated.)

As to the issue of women’s gaining top roles in management and government, I am a medium-term optimist. Indeed, I am not sure if optimism is the word. I anticipate a tectonic shift, in which women come to dominate the ranks of senior managers and leaders in something of a mirror image of the patriarchy of the 1950s. Seems to me that huge shifts in our society and the innovative nature of our businesses will rapidly bring to the fore managers and leaders with high capacities to engage change and to bridge ideas and people. While there are men who excel at both (and, no doubt, women who do not), it’s obvious that of the current crop of males and females one of these human halves wins hands down. I am not here today to account or philosophize. Merely to note.

That having been said, how to get there – and catalyze the process? In a helpful WSJ column, start-up CEO Jody Greenstone Miller seeks to re-frame the discussion. It is not, she claims, that women lack the drive to “lean in” – it is that they do not like the assumptions of the 24-hour executive culture in which “60-plus hours a week” is the norm into which they are being asked to lean. How organizations break down tasks, how they assess their people, how they rate quality over against quantity – these are not (my phrase) laws of nature; they are assumptions of corporate leaders and the cultures they help shape.

In fact, one of the many ironies of the digital revolution to date has been the degree to which communications capacities have been vastly improved and, at the same time, led to the very opposite of better control over time, distance, and availability. The deep naivety that leads so many grown persons to grasp their smartphones and interrupt family dinners, dates, business social occasions, driving – and no doubt showers and yardwork – as if this is somehow a superior way of living and working is risible. (See this embarrassingly candid tirade against Piers Morgan by his wife: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/life-in-a-goldfish-bowl–im-tired-of-my-husbands-tweet-nothings-20130130-2dl3t.html)

Point is: These technologies are enabling much more sophisticated work patterns, just as innovation requires them and the social changes that are finally offering women other than token roles in executive leadership demand them. While most of them would deny it absolutely, the phalanx of traditionalists who dominate the corporate world remain the legatees of an approach to leadership and management which we might broadly characterize as Fordist and which (while it was brilliant and indeed innovative in its day) is an increasingly deadly drag on efficiency and effectiveness in the emerging industries and society of C21.

I have written before of the competitive advantage being squandered by company after company as they ignore women applicants (and social media) with drunken abandon. I’ve argued it has been a tactical blunder to frame this question as one of equity (rather than advantage), which is one reason I am no enthusiast for quota solutions (though some other interventions such as requiring more board turnover work to everyone’s advantage).  https://futureofbiz.org/2012/07/07/the-two-most-stunning-facts-about-american-business/

Point here is: Time and communications management, together with the project-focused approach that fits innovative companies and products and other natural shifts, are slowly moving us in a direction better suited to women, innovation, and also (once they start to get it) men.

Jody Greenstone Miller:


Mary Louise Kelly: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2013/03/11/when-the-sheryl-sandberg-approach-fails.html

The MOOC Scoop: Innovation and the Naive

MOOCs, Innovation, and the Naïve

A thoughtful piece by Clayton Christenson and Michael Horn was challenged this morning on Twitter by John Hagel @jhagel: “Sorry, Clay, we’re thinking much too narrowly abt MOOCs as disruptive force – is it really just-in-time mini-courses?” That may not be a fair way to characterize their position (see the link below). But it surely notes the wide-scale naivety of most of the movers in the MOOC game. This material is fissile. Read to blow in a global chain-reaction.

[My earlier discussion:https://futureofbiz.org/2012/12/20/yes-we-really-do-need-mooc-state-level-and-global/ ]

Memorial Hall de Harvard


It has long been clear that online education would become transformative. It has just taken longer than anyone might reasonably have expected. There are many reasons, ranging from broadband speeds to the clannishness of the academy and its accreditation systems to the rather simple fact that thinking analogically (out of the box, for those who prefer to speak in cliches) is hard. Smart people find it especially challenging. Their smartness equips them quite brilliantly to avoid the need for it. You will see this principle in action (it needs a name) everywhere from the Fortune 500 C Suites where no-one needs to take social media seriously (or, for that matter, women execs) to Washington, DC, where most of the time some of the shrewdest of men (and some women) are looking in their rear-view mirror.

Back to MOOCs. There has been “distance education” for over 100 years (begun back in the heyday of the USPS), and even now mainstream higher ed sees that as the template for what the internet can deliver. Along the way there have been wondrous and complex efforts to duplicate the environment of the classroom online – complete with cameras in a real room and all the accoutrements of a campus at a distance. 

Finally, the efforts of one or two major schools and a handful of renegade faculty have led to the offering of “massive” courses (yes, gaming is the model here along with the silly lingo) and the daring principle of “open” access (pioneered in the UK by the Open University, but anathema to the due-process calculus of American schools and their peer accreditors). A famous early experiment, when using rather primitive email-based methods an academic offered a course (was it in Byzantine history?) and recruited hundreds of applicants, led nowhere. Suddenly, catchup.


And as elite schools play around by offering a course here and there, and entrepreneurs join them – in search, as is proper in even the digital world, of a business model – we now confront a move by a whole tranche of midlevel colleges to use the MOOC technology to offer sampler courses in their traditional programs.  I could not avoid the broadest of smiles as I read the report. They seem genuinely to believe that an add-on course or two will help with recruitment. They seem to have absolutely no idea that they are playing not so much with fire as with a nuclear chain reaction. However exactly this comes about (I offer some suggestions below), the MOOC is set to devastate western higher education as we know it. Even in the UK a similar grassroots effort is now underway, with the British Library as a partner.

Here are some trajectories that, jointly or severally, are set to lay waste what for generations has been “higher education” in the United States and elsewhere.

·        I have argued elsewhere that the United States itself (perhaps through USAID) or one or more of our major foundations should very rapidly develop a global MOOC-based university offering full undergraduate and graduate degrees. My view is that such an initiative would offer the west a major strategic advantage vis-à-vis other contenders for global influence, and could initially take advantage of widespread knowledge of English (and, then, French, Spanish, Portuguese) in the developing world (Africa in particular). If this is done, there will immediately be blowback since the nature of the MOOC is that there is essentially no marginal cost for one more student, and the offering is accessible internet-wide. That is to say, these offerings would sweep the United States also.

·        A second salient into the future may emerge from initiatives taken by individual states or chambers of commerce or other entities with credibility and resources intent on improving the quality and flow of college-educated students and aware of the increasingly prohibitive cost, to states and individuals, of the standard approach. Let’s say state A takes an initiative and plows money into it while closing state university campuses to pay the bill. Again, the project will not be containable within the state. The key would be a first mover with the credibility to challenge the supremacy of the peer-accreditation system. I am actually a fan of that system (versus the European statist option), but it has institutionalized establishment control. We may expect other players to join the regional accreditors in standard-setting. Since the cost to the user will be zero, the control that accreditors have exercised through federal recognition of their decisions for student aid purposes will become moot.

The point is clear. Once a degree-granting MOOC is up and running, its impact will be viral, across the length and breadth of the internet. It will very rapidly destroy the economic model that sustains our current higher education system. Those colleges presently toying with offering sample courses in this subject and that had better look to their laurels. Many of them will not be around in 10 years’ time, and some I suspect in five. Some turkeys now veritably preparing for Christmas, while others believe it will never come.

I am not saying that this is all going to be to the good. But some facts seem clear and it helps us not at all to pretend otherwise:

  • MOOC economics – no marginal student cost – will lead to huge global institutions as well as niche efforts with base funding from foundations, governments, religious institutions, business leaders, in a vast free-for-all.
  • New, global accreditation mechanisms, probably competing with one another, will emerge.
  • There will be carnage among the current midstream state and private institutions without the branding and/or endowment to buck the supply and demand curves.
  • Huge new opportunities will be opened worldwide to hundreds of millions who currently are excluded; a dramatic driver of global innovation and development.
  • The plain initial focus on tech subjects and others readily susceptible of AI teaching and grading will give place to a wider curriculum as AIs rapidly improve their capacities.
  • The human/social dimension of these enterprises will mesh with exponential developments in social media.

Beyond the Buzz, Where Are MOOCs Really Going? | Wired Opinion | Wired.com.

Cobblers and Their Lasts: Why Every Company Needs to Look Inward Before it Turns Outside

Cross-posted from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce BCLC


February 7, 2013

The old saying that the cobbler should stick to his last – his mold – suggests that we ought not venture far from things we work with day by day. That may have been true at one point, but it is no longer. And yet cobblers need to know their lasts, and take responsibility for them. Perhaps before they do anything else.

You have probably never heard of Giesecke and Devrient (G. and D.), a privately-held German company founded in the middle of the 19th century. G. and D. is chiefly a printer. But not just any printer. It’s a secure printer. They print banknotes. In a typical year, they print the banknotes for 80 nations and manufacture the paper for 40 more, over half the member states of the United Nations. Perhaps the next Oceans 11 remake will hit one of their warehouses. The Bourne Banknotes would track global financial conspiracy back to Bismarck. 

A year ago, I was asked to consult, as part of a group, for a new venture emerging from this high-tech banknote machine. While G. and D. has ongoing engagement in several more traditional CSR areas, the new project was to focus on core questions in the domain of its business technology, such as identity and the human-machine interface. It appealed to me as I was just winding down a three-year project on biometrics, identity, security and ethics, in which our Washington, DC think tank C-PET served as U.S. partner in a global effort and last May hosted a three-day event in which representatives of 20 nations, the Department of Homeland Security and the White House participated.

While in Berlin recently, I had the opportunity to listen in on one of the two expert groups organized around G. and D.’s new venture: famed cyborg Neil Harbisson sat around the table with G. and D. executives, philosophers, and tech gurus and on screen we had the legal adviser to the Spanish parliament and an outspoken American futurist. I’m not sure that in the course of the coming months the group will be able to solve all of the potential problems this venture faces. But it will better define what they are, and in the context of a company not only depending on (and innovating within) core emerging technologies, but located in the nation most aware at a formal, policy level of the obstacles of the tech/human interface, its conclusions will be significant. As I have said before, it’s all about the questions. And yet – the session was not all somber reflection. G. and D. had also commissioned its artists to let loose their imaginations in a whimsical exhibition of possible bank bill designs and samples were exhibited round the conference room. My favorite was the series based on Alice in Wonderland. (Which I do not intend as commentary on current U.S. or European economic policy initiatives!)

CSR in the 21st century can take many paths. Much of the field is still old-fashioned philanthropy in response to crises, which may or may not follow the business model of the giver – and is welcome and wonderful either way. Some is reaching out to Michael Porter’s prophetic vision of “shared value,” in which there is full integration with the business model and bottom line. Then there are points and initiatives in between, like G. and D.’s recent effort, and I believe there should be a lot more like it.

Whether or not you believe Porter’s hypothesis, if you are serious about CSR, branding, long-term social connectedness, your company must examine the core issues of its business and figure out how they interface with society’s emerging issues. They may relate to technology, and increasingly they are likely so to do. But whether or not that specific trend is the case, it will only serve your long-term business goals as well as the social good to develop ideas, strategies, and projects that directly connect with the broader cultural trends — especially at its pressure-points, where there is controversy and need.  G. and D. has begun to do that with this fascinating new venture, and it will only benefit them and the rest of us along with them. I am privileged to be associated with it.

State of Social: A Report Card for 2013

State of Social: A Report Card for 2013.

At the outset of 2013, the “social” revolution is proving messy. Here’s a report card and some predictions for the remainder of the decade.


  1. SOCIAL COMPANIES ARE NOT SOCIAL. Our lead social efforts, led of course by Facebook, not only fail to grasp the subtleties of social but are among the least social companies on earth. Facebook, run with all the social finesse of an old-style oil company, has in the process not only doomed itself but damaged the social idea by its comprehensive failure to align that idea with its values and corporate structure (see 5).
  2. COMPANIES DON’T CARE. Major corporations have demonstrated an almost unbelievable level of disinterest in social. While most (80% of F500?) have finally got around to building a social network presence, the number of CEOs and other C-suite execs who are engaging personally in the social revolution is tiny. No-one rivals @rupertmurdoch’s dive into social. Barely a dozen more top CEOs have bothered to try. Opportunity here is indescribably big (see 6, 7, 8).
  3. LEADERS HAVE HARDLY BEGUN. The same is true in government. While many entities at all levels have finally developed a presence, very few leaders have grasped the revolutionary opportunities that have come their way. Newark mayor @corybooker stands out as unique. Member of Congress @darrellissa is close behind. @picobee has catalogued world leaders with Twitter accounts; very few give evidence of personal engagement, and almost all of it is stage-managed, like the “BO” tweets. Booker is the model for 2013.
  4. THE PRIVACY BOMB. The privacy/monetization interface remains unresolved and threatens to destabilize the entire effort. Social companies rely on user data to sell ads, one way or another. They assume that users do not much care. Users, for their part, generally lack the sophistication to control complex “privacy” controls. So risk goes up, and the perhaps naïve idea of social as a free service that would safeguard our stuff and treat us with respect has withered. Social-as-a-service, with fees, has – curiously – yet to be seriously tried. (It will come.)
  5. NO ALIGNMENT. The originality powering many of the myriad social products has yet to be matched by originality in governance and financing. Yet alignment between social as product and the values and structure of the companies that develop and host is crucial. A social enterprise or non-profit model is plainly appropriate. Yet the standard path has been IPO. This ridiculous disalignment will destroy the current leaders and offer a remarkable opportunity to the next wave.
  6. STRATEGIC SOCIAL WILL WIN OUT. It may be inevitable that the strategic significance of social in driving change through innovation will be resisted by organizations for whom old-style control issues are everything. The impact of social in aligning front-line employees and their own values with clients and potential clients suggests a concept foreign to the traditional corporation: that employee (personal) values and corporate values need to be related. It also offers a challenge to a core principle of the corporation: that the organizational boundary is sacrosanct, to be crossed only in the context of risk-controlled contractual arrangements. Social breaches that boundary. In the process, it offers the corporation the possibility of radical shifts in culture that will drive innovation and change. But it cannot do so within the context of the high-control mechanisms of the traditional functional organization. Strategic social offers high-value, high-risk change by aligning the organization with emerging markets and generations. Companies that find ways to harness these forces will drive ahead of their hidebound rivals (see 7, 8).
  7. CEO, C-SUITE, INCOMPETENCE. Drilling down into F500 social incompetence, we meet both defensive C-suite execs who hide behind generational barriers and consign social engagement to junior customer service and marketing roles; and the standard structure in which the CIO still reports through the CFO as if digital were the provision of typewriters and dictaphones to be supplied at the lowest cost. There is now no organization in which the CIO function is not central; the CIO is the closest collaborator of the CEO. Those who grasp this principle will win out.
  8. THE CIO CRISIS. The evidence is clear that very few CIOs are personally engaged in social. They need to be replaced. This is nothing to do with Klout scores (which I continue to regard as ridiculous), and everything to do with fundamental competence. One of the virtues of functional management (it has vices) lies precisely in the fact that C-suite execs are experts in their fields. A putative CIO who lacks serious social competence should not be short-listed. One who is in position should be fired.
  9. SOCIAL NETWORKS WILL CEASE TO COMMAND ECONOMIC PROFITS. When the second wave of social networks moves into place, supplanting Facebook and some others (which may of course continue as profitable, if much less valuable, enterprises), there will be little economic profit to be made. While not all such organizations will be non-profits or mutualized – some will certainly be profit-seeking social enterprises, and others will have new models we cannot predict – the combination of low entry barriers and the utility function of social will ensure that the thrills of the early IPOs, some of which will lead to large capital losses, will not be replicated. As social becomes seriously useful, integrated into communications and decision-making in all enterprises and disrupting as well as innovating in the process, it will no longer have novelty value; and aside from niche markets there will be no economic profit for first movers.
  10. ECONOMIC VALUE WILL BE DELIVERED BY SOCIAL IN ALIGNMENT. The coming decade will see value of several kinds emerge from the meshing of social with increasingly accurate realtime translation software, transparent accounting systems, digital health, deep-rooted innovation systems that are socially driven across organizational boundaries, the workings of government, and other seeming disparate efforts. Before decade’s end each of these will be deeply integrated into next-wave social, delivering extraordinary value that is integrated into major economic engines and not supplemental to them.

Steve Jobs dies; a generation ends


I never met Steve Jobs. Never even tried. I now regret it, of course. Even to shake a hand and chat for five minutes offers a connection unmediated by the various departments of the press. And I have done that with all kinds of people. But he’s gone, and he’s gone younger than I am, and my mortality and admiration and strategic sense are intermingled in a manner I find disturbing. I don’t think there was anyone who in such a practical way grasped the future – the near future, but the future – and found out how to monetize it using his own imagination and the marvelous skills of those he drew to him. Who else has leaped ahead of the focus group and been glad of it? Who else has produced packaging –packaging! – you feel you must be an aesthetic criminal to discard?

A second generation begins today, October 6. The “digital revolution” that the naive ones of the earth believe has happened and that has just started to find traction – the digital revolution is now into Phase II, post-Jobs, an exploration of the middle distance (10-15 years, which will always be our benchmark) as we contemplate our current competencies and what they will in due time entail. But it is indeed today. There is no comparable starting-point. And while the prophets among us tend increasingly to say we are going to live forever, or close to it, the death of the digital generation’s greatest man at 56 brings us back to the benchmark of human mortality. A mortality he discussed, as few do today, even as he prepared the way for those he knew would live on into a distant future denied to him by the interaction of his pancreas (what’s a pancreas? he once asked) and something called cancer that, despite all our efforts, remains a disease we can do surprisingly little about.

What better way to frame what lies ahead? We shall not become immortal (sorry, Ray). Our lives may indeed extend longer, perhaps much longer. Let’s learn from the example of the iconic figure of our Moore’s-Law driven technological times, who learned of his own mortality and dared speak of it – as he prepared us for immortal Siri and the challenging marvels that will lie ahead.

So, be thankful for a man who broke every mold. And let’s embrace our frail humanity as we also engage the extraordinary prospects for which he helped prepare us.

Posted 6th October 2011 by 

Yes, we really do need MOOCs – state-level and global

When the venerable Economist magazine decides to take up a theme, you know it has arrived. Now MOOCs.

I shall come back to this, again and again. But for now, three things we need to note.

1. MOOC-based disruption is coming, whether we (or should I say the higher ed establishment, for-profit and mainstream) like it for not. By and large, “we” do not, and we have made that plain by covering our heads with a blanket hoping it will go away. My estimate: within 10 years, 50% disruption of higher ed in the west. Akin to the impact of digital disruption on publishing in the past ten years.

2. The curious way in which initial efforts have been rolling out – from Stanford and MIT, for example, directly and indirectly – is an important talking point. Institutions with little fear of oblivion dare to experiment, if slowly. Institutions facing the firing squad – like the mid-level state universities and generic liberal arts colleges – are busy focusing on faculty meetings and tenure and the chatter of a world about to be hit by a stray asteroid.

3. Two terrific opportunities to be seized.

(a) Innovative states can immediately (as in, within 12 months) develop MOOC/Khan academy models to overlay and supplant the existing systems.

(b) The United States, through USAID or another agency, can develop a global (initially English-language) university offering full undergraduate programs free of charge and without prerequisites. The former has a chance of saving American education, and thereby the American future.  The latter of vastly extending our influence, especially and initially in Africa where English is widely accessible. But moves into a range of languages will soon be AI-based. This will finally be more significant for U.S. global influence in C21 than another dozen carrier groups. I do not exaggerate.

So, let’s get moving in 2013.

Free education: Learning new lessons | The Economist.

Instagram and Life in the Haze: When Will Users Wake Up?

Twitter 6x6

Twitter 6×6 (Photo credit: Steve Woolf)

Twitter is hot today with Instagram‘s TOS changes, which mark Facebook‘s intent to bring their acquisition more fully into line with their own policies and emerging business model. The company quickly jumped in with a clarification – so brief it can reasonably fail to get to grips with the issues at stake. What this signifies is yet another sampling of the underlying problem with mainstream social media platforms and their way of seeking to do business.

In a word, it is use consciousness. Users sign on to these services in a haze of enthusiasm and with at best a partial understanding of how it is that company XYZ intends to make a bunch of billionaires out of giving you free stuff. And no, it is not by magic.

As we know – and as Twitter has kept reminding us, somewhat painfully – it is considered OK by investors to get a service up and running without needing to have that question resolved – the 21st century version of 1990s dot-com eyeballs hopefulness. But there is not an indefinite number of ways in which this can be done. Three are obvious. Sticking ads in front of your noses. Grabbing a portion of your intellectual property. And messing with your private info. The first and the third may work together. The second and the third are subsets of the same thing – su casa es mi casa, as it were.

One of the great mysteries of our time is why none of these companies has taken a traditional commercial approach to the issues involved – and offered their services (search, social, pics, whatever) on subscription; and/or offered a fee to purchase or licence your stuff. Given the vast sums we pay every month to the telecoms who enable us to access all this “free” stuff, it is hardly as if we don’t give evidence of valuing the service.

But my core point: The uber biz model under which most of these web-based services are operating, and on which they have raised many billions of dollars from the wise/gullible/hopeful investment community and recruited hundreds of millions of subscribers, is that the user will be happy to live in the haze, signing endless consantly shifting TOS and privacy statements unread, and handing carte blanche to those who can turn their 0s and 1s into serious cash flow.

Here’s my take. Users will begin to wake up, in ever larger numbers. They will grasp that their increasingly quantified selves are traded in a human meat market. They will (as the Instagram imbriglio illustrates) really resent the notion that the work of their hands, brains and eyes is available to their new feudal masters to use as they choose. And whoosh, down will come the empires built on haziness and the naive and disrespectful assumption that users don’t care.

And so? Well, first, as I keep saying, the financing and governance of companies in the social space needs to be aligned with, um, well, the social space, and not the top-down awfulness that drove the steel barons a century back. But I am not holding my breath. Second, for the moment, we need the steel barons of our digital lives to do their users the honor of treating them like decision-making consumers and economic agents. Yes please, I want search; what’s the monthly fee to access it and retain 100% control of every ounce of data you get from my end? Yes please,.email; and what’s the extra perm month to add on the pic app?

What’s ahead? Huge advantage for Facebook-esque options (as barriers to entry keep falling and interoperability handles the network effect issue) that are run like Credit Unions with some form of mutual ownership and capitalization, and on the leading edge of socmed business. And, in tandem, fee-based services that leave us with our privacy and IP intact. And, of course, the option to sell, rent, lease all what we have, should we so choose.

The future is not life in the haze.

Instagram Rings its Own Death Knell and Leaps to the Mainstream | Constellation Research Inc..

Please may we have a social Social Network?

Please may we have a social Social Network?

So who enjoys irony? Facebook is one of the least “social” companies on the face of planet earth. In fact on any governance spectrum you will find it jostling with the most archaic of our corporate behemoths. I almost compared it with News Corp., and in terms of board/share control issues there are strong parallels. But even @rupertmurdoch is a serious tweep. He gets social in a way we have yet to see any evidence that Zuck does. Read that sentence again, slowly.

I have written before of Facebook’s fundamental problems – interoperability is coming way before this Calif. corporation is permitted to become the new

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Français : Logo de Facebook Tiếng Việt: Logo Facebook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

global comms everything. Before then, it will go the way of Yahoo and MySpace as barriers to entry keep collapsing. And what was once cool is already becoming infested with grandparents. In general, the more digital a company’s biz model, the faster it will age.

But this is a separate issue, and it would have been perfectly possible for a Facebook-like-entity to emerge run by people deeply imbued with the social idea. Hard to say this, as their guy demands enormous admiration and has mine, but in today’s corporate America MZ is a leader in anti-social as well as old-style board (or rather non-board) governance. In a world of growing alignment, this is 180 territory.

So the news that Facebook’s rather curious experiment with democracy has, through the democratic process itself, as it were, been abandoned, is a joke wrapped in a joke. And Facebook’s protestations to the contrary (see the great article below from Gigaom) just make it worse. There is an indefinite number of better ways in which Fb could have arranged its entry into the world of democratic societies. The approach they have taken lies somewhere between Napoleon and pre-Arab spring MENA.

Which raises a question that is much more interesting: when shall we see the emergence of corporate entities operating in the “social” space – a space that we know will define our relationships social, cultural, commercial, political, from now on – that both understand and choose to act in alignment with the social idea?

My sense is that while this may not be true of corporations delivering business in other sectors – some of which are slowly being attuned to the social idea – for social media enterprises there is no way around a governance structure that is aligned with social and therefore that cannot simply replicate the IPO-driven start-up culture or indeed any conventional model in which the users (who, of course, may or may not be the paying customers) are fundamentally distinguished from the owners of capital and their agents in management. That is, we need innovative approaches to corporate financing and governance that align with the social model.

At one level, this is hardly revolutionary. One of the most interesting features of C19th industrial revolution societies was the emergence of mutual models. In the UK the co-operative societies, still successful wholesale/retail businesses, and building societies, which demutualized into commercial banks during the past 30 years. In the US, credit unions remain. I’m not proposing these as templates. But one can readily understand why Facebook could tolerate the democratic principle only so far as the market would permit the BOD to hand responsibility to groups of users. Hence the ridiculously high voter turnout required, hundreds of millions of people to address technical issues of privacy, which has given the whole effort a pantomime character. And (sorry, but this is true) made democracy look like tomfoolery at a time when respect for democracy as culture and not simply narrow process lies at the core of the global crisis of government and legitimacy, from Russia to China to the Middle East.

So: I’m waiting for a social social network. It may be too much to hope for Twitter to take the lead, though what a superb example it could offer. Aside from social biz approaches to financing, or old-style mutualization (all active tweeters after two years get X shares . . .), perhaps the Gates Foundation will buy it out and establish a user-run governance model (and users include names like Dell, Murdoch, and Branson; the top business brains on the planet hold this network in affection and find serious value here).

Point is: We need social social networks. Facebook is pre-eminently not that. Which is one of several reasons why its future is not all that bright.

Why it’s a good thing that Facebook has given up on democracy — Tech News and Analysis.

via Please may we have a social Social Network?.