Archive for the 'Society' Category

Is this the f—g button?

Islamic terrorism distresses me just as much as the nationalistic movements that Brexit, Trumpism and the rest of Europe are working towards for the same reason: it’s not progress towards future.

Islamism bothers me because it crushes individual freedoms. Nationalism bothers me because it kills open trade and travel, which has underpinned the stability the world has seen post world war two. Truthfully, both repulse me as forces because they divide humanity.

I’ve often half-joked to friends that the only time human’s will finally unite is when we get a door knock from an alien civilisation wanting to take us and our planet over. But we don’t need to wait for that either.

One day, an asteroid could wipe out all living species on earth like it did with the dinosaurs. And if that does not happened, then the next ice-age will give us a run on our gas bills (like how we had remarkably as low as 40 “breeding pairs” of homo Sapiens 70,000 years ago, and ice ages happen more often than you realise like the last one which happened 12,000 years ago). If we have any  hope of surviving as a human species, to not consider the need to colonise other planets, develop technologies to survive from our own earth’s changes, or address the need to one day eliminate all disease which is, quite literally, killing us — is short-term (human species) thinking. Life is a magical mystery but the survival of our species depends on further exploration and technology — but we can’t get there until we start thinking like this. 

(There is nothing wrong with short term thinking: putting your right foot ahead of your left foot as you breathe is critically important. I just hope you appreciate, that equally, you’re an idiot if that’s all you do when there’s a pot hole with a sleeping alligator two steps ahead of you.)

I get what’s going on with all the politics and why the actors are doing it. The cost of it, is they are just wasting our potential (and survival) as a species. That potential will only eventuate when we don’t squander our mind space and energy. Which is why I’ve decided I don’t have the headspace for it any more (outside of entertainment). Unless your survival as an individual human is at risk — and for some of you, that’s more pressing that others and I respect that — I’m going to ask you join me and start thinking about what really matters, as humanity. When you start thinking like that, hopefully that will follow with the doing which is what we need right now.

If you need help to get into this frame of mind, let me help.  Just ask yourself this question next time you catch yourself reading the news or getting into a debate with someone: how does this help us — and what are you doing — from not getting frozen by aliens or injected with a deadly disease and while we are at it did anyone remember to make a fucking eject button to get us to Mars?

Why automation excites me

Most of human society was engaged in farming once upon a time. Slavery meant richer nations (or classes in those nations) moved to others work as slaves focussed on farming — and then one day, after thousands of years, slavery was abolished. Ignoring the human element to this, what drove this economic change? Technology. No coincidence that this happened in the same hundred years of the industrial revolution starting. Machines are simply more efficient than humans — and yet I think you would agree wth me that we are working more than ever since this transition in the world happened. 
This is a good thing. It’s just the transition isn’t good — it’s friction. This is happening again and will continue to happen.
In the current form of friction, I believe automation is likely going to be one of the biggest political issues in the coming decade. The politics should be centered on how do we manage the friction (or if a country wants to fall behind, ignore it).  There is a trend toward nationalism in America and Europe especially, and foreign labour is the catch cry but truthfully, it’s also largely due to technology, or rather the automation in manufacturing replacing jobs. We need to realise this is a permanent trend and this will extend to other sectors of the economy like services in future (as we saw with farming in the last 200 years).
For those scared of a future where the machines replace our jobs or even for those who think profit is a bad word, you just need a different perspective. Let me try to do this in just four sentences.
  • Economic theory suggests that we can make money either through rent (land ownership), wages (your time), interest (tool ownership), or profit (creativity).
  • However, unlike the first three factors of production (land, labour, capital), entrepreneurship (creativity) is limitless.
  • (Well, almost unlimited — it’s limited only by our imagination and our time.)
  • Which is why we need to machines to replace jobs that have us rent our time by the hour to survive, as instead we need to be unlocking human creativity.

America shouldn’t ban guns, but the world should learn from them instead

The US Supreme court this week reversed the Massachusetts High Court Caetano v. Massachusetts decision that said a “stun gun” does not qualify under the second amendment, with  a reason used because the technology did not exist at the time of the framing constitution. Actually, I agree with the US Supreme court on this, but it confirms something that I’ve long thought was bound to happen which is where do you draw the line for what constitutes “arms”?

Two nights ago, I was shown a semi-automatic rifle in the apartment of a friend and thought it was damn cool. But more broadly, my views on guns is simple: you need a gun, a human and a mistake or bad motive to create a tragedy. The political Right wing believe the answer to tragedies is mental health solutions (as my friend said, “people kill people, not guns”); the Left believe it’s banning the guns. I consider myself politically moderate and used to think the solution was banning them, but I’ve now realised it would be impractical (see the below video why).

How to Create a Gun-Free America in 5 Easy Steps

Want to create a gun-free America in 5 easy steps? Here's all there is to it.

Posted by Reason Magazine on Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Without going into a debate what the second amendment means in the United States (originally to protect citizens from a tyranny when organised into militias; which has now been clarified by the courts as a personal right, and a right to self-defense) my reasoning was not that I wanted to take people’s freedoms away; it’s that I think guns are correlated with violence and so controls on them make logical sense because it’s easier to control that then the people who use them unpredictability on innocent humans. As a case in point, when I asked my friend how easy  it was to get a gun and a license, even he grimaced at how easy it was — it should be as hard as getting your driver’s license.

What now?
I actually think people should keep their guns because it’s irrelevant. The reason I say irrelevant is for the same reason why they exist in the first place: technology. Living in Silicon Valley, I see and hear things ahead of the rest of the world. Everyone in my network — primarily investors and entrepreneurs — spend a lot time thinking about the future as a day job so naturally have developed insights about what a future world looks like. And one of the more chilling ones I’ve heard about are drones which is why the Caetano v. Massachusetts  interests me as you could argue one day drones are an ‘arms’ essential for self-defense as protected by the constitution.

But what can be used in self-defense and also be used in offense.

Let’s play a thought experiment: that drones one day can carry a payload that would blow up its surroundings. And let’s also assume that one day, miniaturisation technology enables them to be the size of a fly. So a would-be deranged human would fly in their drone through a crack of your window and blow you up. Think that’s unrealistic? Based on technological trends, it’s almost guaranteed to happen one day, technically speaking.

That’s not talking about another set of military technological feats that’s been consumerised, which can simply be called “hacking”. You don’t think that one day, the thing governments are doing to each other — like the literal cold war between China and the US happening right now — won’t happen at an individual level? When your “Internet-of-Things” fridge that talks to your microwave and front door lock and bed-warmer and thermostat — becomes remotely controlled to make you a prisoner in your own home? I’m not going to extend this thought experiment any further because it’s just scary what could happen as the home is just one area of risk.

What good are guns or stun guns when it comes to fly-sized drones and hacking you don’t see ? They are not. That’s why it is time to move the debate, globally, to not one of guns but of society and the individual. It’s about how much power we allow individual humans to inflict violence on other humans.

An individual has the right to life, which means security and dignity among other things. What penalties do we have when another human takes that away? And what power do we allow individuals to protect themselves, which as the Supreme court justices opined about Caetano v. Massachusetts argued was necessary, because the state wasn’t there to protect her due to ineffective restraining orders or a present police officer.

Here is my suggestion for some principles I think we can agree to:

  • In an urban environment, where there is population density, anything that is a tool who’s primary purpose is to commit some sort of violence, should be banned. No one should be allowed to possess them, more for the idea that if you have an arms race amongst people you will always have one who can out-do the other.
  • Self-defense and tools are to be encouraged. But only ones that can disarm and disable an attack, not kill. This is why I like stun guns over regular say regular guns and agreed with the Supreme Court’s comment.

The debate is not about guns. Or maybe it is now — but it won’t be in a few years.

The West and Islam (and soon, China)

Twenty years have passed since famed political scientist Samuel Huntington published his seminal work, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. He predicted a world where there would be a clash with the Islamic civilization.
Here is a summary and critique. A nice summary from the article:
Like the Islamic world, the Sinic civilization believes itself to be superior to the West, and Huntington predicted it would therefore seek to challenge the West and its designs for global influence. China’s resistance to Western supremacy stems from its Confucian values, which emphasize the importance of hierarchy, authority, consensus and the state’s dominion over society and which clash with American beliefs of liberty, equality, democracy and individualism. The chasm between the two makes a Western-style political structure incompatible with Chinese cultural and civilizational traditions, just as it is incompatible with the Islamic world’s rejection of the separation of church and state. As a result, the relationship between the two civilizations would become increasingly confrontational, especially as China’s economic and military power expands and Beijing begins to pursue a role as a regional hegemon.
Despite the criticism, he did say one thing that Stratfor agreed with that I love:
Instead of promoting the supposedly universal features of one civilization, the requisites for cultural coexistence demand a search for what is common to most civilizations. In a multicivilizational world the constructive course is to renounce universalism, accept diversity, and seek commonalities.
We have politicians currently campaigning in America and Europe taking advantage of bigotry, racism and other despicable traits that take us a step back. To me, the above mentioned quote is a timeless reminder, that there is no one system that is superior so let’s just settle to be different and celebrate that.

Legalise drugs if you want to deter their usage

The Age, an Australian newspaper reports today the following:

Australians should be able to buy a pure form of the drug ecstasy from their local pharmacy to curtail the harm caused by contaminated blackmarket pills, a Melbourne pharmacist and a leading doctor say.

I agree, for more reasons beyond just that. Let me explain.

Three things about drugs that changed my views

Growing up, largely due to the respect I wished to show my parents, I didn’t touch drugs and had no interest in them, seeing it as a moral issue. That perception changed when I was 21 and traveling the world, I read a book by Ariana Huffington of “How to Overthrow the Government” and she discussed how hemp was a major competitor to the cotton farmers, detailing how hemp had been used for hundreds of years as a way to make textiles. However based on the coordinated lobbying of the cotton industry, the marijuana plant was made illegal and so formed the basis of its illegality today. Times have changed and cotton is no longer the important (political) industry it was in past but the role of the cotton farmer has now been replaced by the pharmaceutical company. With that it remains illegal for the same reason (economics reasons) not health reasons: marijuana and a blue pill can both help you with depression and anxiety, the difference is you can’t grow a blue pill in your backyard.

The second thing that has struck with me is Portugal, which is now well documented since they decriminalised drug use in 2001. Now that it’s *not* illegal, it turns out people take drugs less, continuing drug use is in decline, drug induced deaths have decreased steeply and HIV infection rates have dropped to a manageable level. Read more what 14 years of decriminalisation has done.

The third thing that has struck me since living in America, is the prison population and it’s size. (Today, the US is 5% of the World population and has 25% of world prisoners.) More specifically, how it’s dominated by certain races, whereby African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population. Source: Criminal Fact sheet. And why is that? Because poor black young men turn to drugs as an income source.

Make drugs legal

One of the biggest reasons people say we need to keep drugs illegal is because it acts as a deterrent. We need to accept it’s failing at that.

We should legalise all drugs for the purposes of controlling their supply to eliminate impurities and better monitor their consumption by individuals. But the big realisation I had today when I read that article by the Age, is the best way to deter people from something is to educate then, not to make the supply illegal (which has has the unintended affect of not eliminating the supply, but simply making it less pure and harmful). Imagine if we spent all that money on law enforcement into health advertising and education instead? That’s a much better way to deter the public from harming themselves.

Legalising drugs could have dramatic social change around the world, not least the US which is improving the increased racial tensions of its African-descent population despite progress for civil rights. Legalising drugs will also means the supply can be better regulated, to reduce the harm on the people who consume it — MDMA, cocaine and heroin are all drugs that damage due to impurities. And by legalising, it also means we can free up resources (primarily enforcement) from trying to restrict the supply to instead dampening demand by educating society on the dangers of drug consumption.

Let’s accept the fact that criminalising drugs has done little in restricting supply outside of making it more expensive and less pure. If you want a deterrent, do that through advertising and education; if you want to keep the prices high to reduce demand, do that through price controls. And if you want reduced drug consumption in society, accept it’s time we think about the demand side not the supply side as the only solution.

What Vivek Wadhwa taught us

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen two people I know become involved in an intense situation. They are Mary Trigiani, a board director of one of my companies, StartupHouse, and Vivek Wadhwa, the writer and speaker who I met several years ago and for some time was on his private mailing list.

Separate to the above, as a guy who doesn’t like how someone, on the face of it, was promoting women and was trashed quite explicitly — I’ve been talking to Trigiani to reconcile my own thoughts on what is happening.

I had no desire to enter the public conversation because there are enough people jumping on that bandwagon. But after being referred to a Facebook thread of tech personalities discussing the issue, seeing how Francisco Dao misses the point, and reading “What kind of a message does this give to other men who want to champion women?” I feel it’s no longer a question.  We are missing some perspective here.

Been under a rock? There’s a lot of background to this, like the Newsweek article that kicked it off, Amelia Greenhall’s blog post, the podcast that was taken down, the replacement podcast and the Verge interview. But if you only have time for one, here is The New York Times about the whole episode.

Why Vivek Wadhwa Failed
What Wadhwa did in the wake of Amelia Greenhall’s blog post and NPR chat is a lesson for anyone, male or female, in how not to react to criticism.

The issue is grounded in the fact that Wadhwa decided himself to become the champion for women, using what he calls his research as a platform.  He wasn’t elected, but he has been deposed, I think, because of the lack of leadership — openness, understanding, listening, managing — he exhibited when criticised for his behavior (like for example, how he used his research to claim authority on behalf of women in areas the research didn’t cover).  He caused outrage because he silenced female critics and challengers (what fueled the fight), using bad Twitter and social media etiquette (where the discussions occurred), and what they believe was just his hogging of the limelight (the basis, for some, of their initial frustration).

To put a specific example of showing my point: Wadhwa called women “ token floozies” and Trigiani expressed concerns. Wadhwa then claimed it was due to his non-English speaking background and claimed she has personal issues. That’s not what a leader does.

Wadhwa damaged his own credibility by doing things like this.  As sorry as some of us may feel for seeing what some considered to be a good name trashed (including myself), he did this to himself — and it disappoints me he won’t take responsibility.  As a leader, you need to listen and adapt. You need to own your mistakes and move forward. You need to be aware what you say and do has an impact — but also realise that not responding is a statement in itself. Wadhwa, despite the impression of doing good in the big picture sense, has failed in the details as a champion and has actually done harm to the conversation he claims he was trying to lead by letting his ego get in the way.  As another case in point: after promising quite dramatically that he was exiting the conversation, he continues to return each time someone mentions his name in good favour on the topic.

Let’s stop denying the truth
It’s obvious to say, but I’m going to say it anyway: men and women really are different.  As in every endeavor when people of different cultures, wiring, and experience come together, there is scope for misunderstanding and potential conflict.  So for now, there is at best discovery and at worst tension between the sexes and we’re lying to ourselves if we don’t admit that.

Today’s leaders need to celebrate the differences and make it work for whatever endeavor is on the table.  I’m not using that as a line to make this post cliche-perfect but because I’ve actually seen it with my own eyes. I’ve worked on Sand Hill as a VC, in SoMa at a startup, travelled around the US, Europe and Australia to speak at events and mentor startups. But more relevantly, as a founder who runs two very different businesses (but have in common that they are community-centric businesses) — the global events-based “StartupBus” and the Silicon Valley real-estate based “StartupHouse” — I’ve always felt the need to understand these issues because it concerns my customers, employees and board of directors.

I have seen first-hand how a gender-balanced team leads to a stronger business both strategically and in operations. For example, we’ve attracted and retained a lot more customers because some women feel more comfortable when they see women in staff and management positions.  We’ve also become aware of issues that didn’t even cross the minds of the males on the team — including the board of directors that Trigiani sits on — that we’ve now acted on as a priority, making both male and female customers happier. Female employees bring a different perspective and have brought insights to me before anyone else in the team that affected team dynamics and even insights into approaching the market.  I could list many more but I cannot without giving specific examples that affect the business’s competitiveness.  The point is, it’s good business to have a gender-balanced team. The advocacy of stories like this is what Wadhwa should be remembered for his contributions, despite his failed leadership.

What we can do about it, together
To make the differences work in the female-male realm, both men and women in positions of leadership need to acknowledge the frustrations some women experience (such as unwanted advances and idea thievery). We need to stop denying these are ingrained habits, stop ignoring them, and stop them when we are in a position to do so.  Perhaps most important in this particular situation at this particular moment, all men — not just those in leadership positions — have to honour women’s outrage and support their expression of it.  We have to listen and suppress the “buts” as this anger is based on personal experience.  It is real and we have to welcome the expression of it.

As an executive and as a guy, I have made gigantic mistakes and wound up on the firing line.  What I’ve done differently from Wadhwa is that I took it.  Every shot with no reaction.  I asked what I did wrong and went to great effort to understand what I did to cause my offense.  My lesson from this is when you are criticised, you need to display humility. You need to stop feeding the anger by denying another person’s experience or criticising how they express it.  You need to issue one public statement saying you acknowledge what you did without pretending you didn’t say it or making excuses; simply acknowledge you now understand how you may have been wrong.  Do yourself the favour and make a genuine effort to understand it.

What I learned in this time of reflection is that men need to be conscious of how anything we say or do can be interpreted as patriarchal, intimidating, or sexual.  It may be we are none of those, but by ignoring our tone, we give people ammunition to further pull us down — but this is key, as language matters. Instead, give people what they want:  that we listened and heard them.

You may feel women should not share their personal experiences or express outrage regarding this particular situation with Wadhwa.  That may be debatable, but the presence of and need for women in the workplace are facts of life.  So whatever your position on how people express themselves, make sure you realise that women deserve to be heard.  By defending Wadhwa’s reaction to his challengers and criticising women (who he claimed to represent) for sharing their personal experiences with him and their subsequent outrage, you are denying those experiences and ignoring their voices.  That’s not helpful.

Dudes — let me just make my point super clear. When it comes to women’s issues in technology and society, before you open your mouth, let the women have the mic first. Get comfortable with amplifying their messages and supporting them — rather than putting the message out there yourself. We’ve had our shot at being the messengers, and from my vantage point, not only are women more qualified on the topic, but we’ve messed up enough that it’s time to stand back. There is enough debate between women themselves on how they approach this issue: our role is to listen and support the viewpoints that makes sense for men and women.

Which means the next time something like this happens (and you know it will), do us all a favor and be quiet.  Which is what Wadhwa should have done in the first place.

So to follow my own advice, here are the words of Jamie Roth, a woman on the StartupBus Global Council (what I’m developing to be the community elected aspect of the board of directors for StartupBus, my other company) which is this: “I’m glad you’re posting this — it’s important for men’s voices to be a part of the conversation. I don’t think the answer should be ‘keep quiet,’ though. It should be ‘don’t be a dick’.”

Many thanks to Jennifer Shaw, Jamie Roth, Falon Fatemi, Rose Jeantet and Mary Trigiani for their feedback on the draft of this post

Make a new year’s promise to yourself

I’m reflecting on my business, my life and what I want to achieve next year and the next decade which is at the back of my mind every minute of every day as I work through the days. It’s now lunch time so time to stop: once I’m hungry, my mind is useless — off I go.

My legs take me towards the locality of one of the regular places I’ve been eating this last week, a food court. “What am I going to eat?” I murmur in my mind. “How about just keep walking in that (different) direction where you don’t know what exists to eat, Elias, and work it out”, I say to myself.

I walk, and there’s nothing and turn the block only to enter the department store that hosts the food court from the other side (it’s a Westfield  with two opposite street facing sides). Not knowing how to get there from this direction, I follow my intuition.

Low and behold, I made a discovery: I come across food stores I never knew existed.

I keep exploring fascinated that there is an entirely new food court in the same building and am excited at the chance to try a completely new lunch meal (Brazilian BBQ!). I order, I pay — and off I walk back to the office, once again, not really sure how I get out of here but I just follow my intuition.

Moments later, it turns out it was the same food court I always go to, exiting how I always exit it (and previously entered it). The difference is when I enter I would turn right and would walk to the end of the food stores thinking that was it whereas had I walked straight in previous times I would have found this additional food court that was hidden behind a corner.

I can’t help but think this is a metaphor for life and what we should all try to attempt in 2015. Don’t make resolutions, make instead promises to yourself: walk the unknown path and trust your intuition to guide you. It might end up taking you to the same place, but who knows, you might end up with a completely different perspective.

Ok, I need to finish my lunch now. Happy new year!

Rethinking capitalism

The economy. Government. How business operates. Whatever your views, I think we all agree something is broken. I’m going to propose a set of ideas that could at their fundamental level change how we perceive the world. (Warning: it’s going to help you read the linked posts to follow the thinking.)

Let’s start with in 2009, how I picked my beef with capitalism:

Money, you see is just a way to sustain something. It shouldn’t be the end-goal of business, and it’s that point that fundamentally irritates me about capitalism. That being the whole focus on it being about returns on capital – not returns on humanity.

In 2011, I said how we are measuring the wrong thing in society as progress. Why is it always about measuring more consumption (GDP), and not generating more ‘actual’ happiness like better health outcomes? Certainly the guy that invented GDP didn’t think of it how we see it now.

In 2012, a thought I had ended up resonating with a lot of people.

…which I then expanded in a post and several months later I explained as a way to measure success.

Last year in March 2013, I asked a question around why do we need money — which linked it to my recurring theme round time and value. Specifically, “money purchases value, but money doesn’t create value (in the ultimate sense)”. Which furthered my thinking that making more and more money isn’t the goal, a pretty big realisation for me.

The five year test
What do I have to say now — after being an auditor for financial markets, a recognised intrapreneur at a big company, a manager in a startup, an investor at a venture capital firm, a foreign entrepreneur with no safety net in the world’s biggest (and most ruthless) economy that made money with no help  and then lost it requiring help by outside investors to get back to where I started.  Where I’ve run a business not only with traditional employee considerations, but an organisation where 40%+ of the 1000+ customers have come back to work as volunteers and run it, like short-term employees but with more passion. And might I add, has radically transformed my views about what motivates people

In short, I now feel like i’ve seen enough where I can apply business academia to real world experience. And so do I read back on all my posts in the last five years and think differently on the fundamental concepts that underpin our society?

Surprisingly, I seem to agree with my thoughts even more.

Today I met up with an old friend Dr Donnie Maclurcan who mentioned how he recalls my first post (the first link) and around that time had begun his own journey that will lead to a book called living in a Post-growth society released next year, which you can read in summary in this recent Guardian piece. Donnie has a very strong view that we need to rethink corporate structures as being the fundamental thing that needs to be changed and his view being they are non-profit. I challenged his ideas with my actual experiences, such as the incentive of an entrepreneur or needing capital when it’s not available by banks, which brought out two interesting points.

The first is actually linked to my freedom dimension of success, where I say you need to define how much money you want to make in life and draw a line. Otherwise, you sacrifice the other dimensions in life. It’s a personal decision, but let’s say for arguments sake you could make you current annual salary (or double) on a recurring base. If you were to make that every year — you could maintain your current lifestyle. And if you could maintain your current lifestyle, but have more time — you could have a better life, right? Why would you need more money? To buy something shiny and feed your ego?

But the second one that I found intriguing, was how do you motivate private investors to want to ‘invest’ in a non-profit. And his idea was that once the non-profit makes, say $1m a year it needs to pay back the loan with a 300% interest rate. Thinking this through, this is what owning equity does as a best case scenario. I know I think every day about how I pay back my investors with a return on their capital, beyond paper valuations and actual cash dividends (that is, when I’m not worried about meeting payroll and operating expenses).

A vision for the future
Assuming you’ve been able to follow the thoughts above, here I’ll attempt to finally patch them together on a new type of capitalism. A type that keeps the current system but fixes it at the fundamental level with better incentives.

  • Make all companies non-profits with entrepreneurs who create them guaranteed a permanent salary for their work as the reward. (Like owning equity, except it’s not equity.) This fixes the incentive issue for the people who initiate the value creation.
  • Private investment can still occur in enterprises, but instead of owning equity, they are simply considered debt with a high interest rate. This fixes the issue of the incentive issue for capital to fund ventures.
    • It’s no coincidence that in silicon valley, one of the most forward thinking places right now when it comes to the global economy  (meaning, new jobs and new industries are being created more so than anywhere else) that the predominant instrument used in startup financing is called “convertible debt” — which means, it’s debt and if it doesn’t convert, it turns into equity (which in practice, is what happens).

Why this is such a big thought, is because it removes the need of “owning equity” which to Donnie’s point is the fundamental problem in our society. I’m not entirely convinced on this, but consider this:

  • As all companies are non-profits, the destruction of value that can occur in the public markets is no longer and companies can instead focus on re-investing profits into things like R&D, customer value, and employee satisfaction. Like Bosche, one of the word’s biggest “big business” non-profits does.
  • Because there isn’t this focus on the mythical “shareholder value”, we can see companies doing what USAA does (one of the biggest banks in America with the best scores across all companies for customer and employee satisfaction) which is talk about “member value” or their customers.
    • If you think about it, the entire point of a business should be to serve its customers. Not its employees or its shareholders (though they have a duty to them), but the people who purchase the value created by the business. And so by changing this tone from the top, we will see a complete re-think by companies on how they operate. We’ll see better run companies.

Let’s now extend this to government just to complete the circle. Why the hell do we measure our progress in society with how much money we spend each year, and not what our average life expectancy is? Our length of life and our health quality I think is a more important measure for society than how much money we spend, which is why we have this materialistic culture that leads us to be on a treadmill of chasing the wrong things. If we no longer focus on profits, then we also need to match that with no longer focussing on consumpsion.

  • Make life expectancy our number one measure of success. GDP growth, unemployment rate — ok cool, I care about that because money matters. But why don’t we make average life expectancy the number one measure? Can you imagine how this could transform our society if politicians suddenly were accountable for our livelihoods?
  • If I sound like a hippy, let me throw this thought at you: one day, when the population growth stagnates and starts declining we are going to have a crisis in our society because we measure “growth” of the economy which is fundamentally dependent on population growth. What are elections going to be fought about then? Let’s drop population size growth and instead focus on population quality growth.

Go ahead. Tell me the thoughts in this post are crazy. And yes, maybe they are  — but just maybe there is something about this being the future. I love capitalism and like democracy, want to keep those systems — but we all agree they are flawed and we can fix them.

In the case of capitalism this is doing it fundamentally at what makes is so powerful: around incentives. If we can rethink some fundamental definitions of what progress is in life, society, business, and government — we may actually create a better life.

(On a related theme: this 2012 post will get you thinking on how we fix democracy at the fundamental level but that’s for another day.)

Be gluey: a leader in function, not name

I just read this great article on leadership quotes. Go on, read it. Which brings me to share one of the first lessons I learned of what leadership is.

In my high school, cadets was a major part of the school’s tradition which basically meant we dressed up in army clothes and got to roll around in the mud every so often. Our cadet unit did an expedition in the Australian outback which was a 40 kilometre trek and we had to travel with our backpacks (filled with camping gear, cooking utensils, etc). In the cadet unit, there was a platoon and each platoon had corporals all responsible for a half dozen cadets in ‘sections’ in addition to the two sergeants and a commanding officer.

This particular platoon had to make its way up the hills in the intense heat, along with an embedded ‘commando’ corporal from the commando platoon who considered himself a ‘leader’, which he was. As corporals, you would assume that they would lead the charge, which is what the commando corporal did. It was, after all, important to have someone navigate where we were going and something the ‘section’ corporal would have done normally,

As the front of pack role was taken up, not to be made redundant in his role as the ‘section’ corporal, he instead  kept an eye on his guys, so would shuffle through the line that was made. It would tun out that as the day progressed, one of the cadets was lagging. Slightly overweight, but also by no means because it was easy to carry 10-20 kilograms on your back in this heat and up a hill, he was practically at breaking point. Not allowing it to be a discussion but with great relief, this section corporal had him hand over his backpack who made it up the hill with both of their backpacks so the crew could make it up the hill quicker and by dusk.

Observing this taught me an important life lesson: leadership is about being the last guy in line. Leadership is not about walking in front of a group of people; it’s about helping the fat guy that’s behind everyone and holding back the group.

In my restaurant waiter days as a teenager, I learned the best kind of waiter is one that is invisible: filling your water without you noticing, clearing your plates without you asking, reading your mind before it has a chance to be processed by you as needing it done. That’s what the best kind of leader is my eyes: like what glue does or like what inspiration provides, it’s invisible but the essential reason why things are happening.

Put another way, be gluey. Be a leader in function, not name.

Global citizenship

Due to unexpected events, I’ve had to spend five weeks in Australia in the last six months. I’ve also by no means had time for holidays with a backlog of work so it’s made me wonder how practical a dual location life is.

For one thing, its completely redefined my view on being away from my family and friends. While not without some issues on my business, the upside has been my aging parents are happier, I’m more connected with old friends (and family, which makes me happy), and less home sick. Meanwhile I can continue to chase my ambitions in America.

Why would you want this?

  • Because we can now. Flights are quicker and cheaper. They say in ten years time, Sydney to London will take 4 hours (currently 24 hours). But even then, today it takes 14 hours Sydney to San Francisco; and 10 hours SF to London. With inflight wifi becoming standard (increasingly on domestic flights now, and I’ve done it once before on a international flight over the Pacific ocean so only a matter of time), it’s no longer wasted time.
  • Work is becoming more flexible. For example, smart engineers and designers I know just contract now, and small businesses give you flexibility when it doesn’t hurt the business — like how my old employer Vast had a virtual team for many years to attract top talent. Even our StartupHouse team is currently spread across three continents right now (and it’s a real estate business!) not to mention the entire StartupBus leadership team live in as many cities as we have people. While face time is crucial, I have to say from a business point of view, I’ve unexpectedly discovered having such strong networks in multiple locations opens up opportunities not to mention increased satisfaction from the team in the job.
  • health care is becoming more globalised  where medical tourism is a very real trend. I’ve heard of people I know getting plastic surgery in Thailand; eye laser surgery in Singapore; jaw bone surgery in Bulgaria — all because it was cheaper. Actually just this week, I was getting medical care in Australia for a quick checkup and prescription, which ended up being way cheaper without insurance than what it costs in the US with insurance.
  • Education is becoming more flexible, with remote study for adults and what we are seeing with kids being brought up on iPads is just the start. The success I’ve been hearing about AltSchool (where two former colleagues of mine are now working there) is another example how technology is enabling us to have more flexible and higher quality education

Of course, this isn’t a life for all people. Most people are quite happy to stay in the one location and for reasons of work can’t be flexible. But for those of us like me, with the travel bug or with global ambitions in business or with family spread across the world or with a multi-geography upbringing — the advances in technology are now enabling us to have a richer fuller life we desire.