Archives for category: innovation

Today I came across a relatively new (month-old) feature in Facebook Messenger: you can hail an Uber from within the app. Both Facebook and Uber act as (and have aspirations to be) interesting “front door” or “gateway” apps. For instance, for more and more people Facebook is not a page on the World Wide Web: it is the Web. All browsing starts in Facebook. Similarly, Uber has aspirations to be the first thing people think of when they want to move themselves around in a place.

Both of these “front door” functions actually are about reducing hassle, or friction. It is a hassle to find links to visit. It is a hassle to get in a car, drive yourself to a place, and park. Facebook and Uber remove those hassles (or intend to).

This frictionless society has been building inexorably, and it is interesting to think about its timeline and to reflect at how different the world has become and is becoming.

In thinking about this timeline, it is possible to start as early as 1969 when Arpanet was created, or 1989 when AOL was launched, or 1991 when the first Web page was published (actually that link points to a replica).

But instead I am thinking about the efforts and effects of major companies. Depending on your viewpoint, this could be a dystopic history or the description of a pathway to an easier lifestyle — or it could be both.

In any event, think about it:

  • Amazon (buying things) established 1994
  • craigslist (local want-ad stuff) established 1995
  • Wells Fargo Web banking established 1995
  • Peapod (groceries) established 1996
  • Google (searching) established 1998
  • PayPal (paying people) established 1998
  • Wikipedia (knowledge) established 2001
  • iTunes (digital music) invented 2001
  • Gmail (best email) launched 2004
  • Facebook (social community) established 2004
  • YouTube (video) established 2005
  • Google Maps (wayfinding) launched 2005
  • Twitter launched 2006
  • Apple TV launched 2006
  • Hulu (broadcast TV) established 2007
  • iPhone launched 2007
  • Spotify (even easier music) established 2008
  • Uber (transportation) established 2009

Just the above list does not do justice to the massive dislocation that a handful of these companies have created. Just think about how altogether possible it is to:

  • Buy everything you need through Amazon (groceries through local delivery service like Peapod)
  • Maintain connected to community, communicate, and learn about news through Facebook
  • Pay all bills through web banking
  • Listen to any music you want through Spotify
  • Watch any filmed entertainment (TV shows or movies) through Apple TV
  • Get around using Uber
  • Find people to do housework through craigslist and pay them through PayPal

Each of these services is attempting to create a total “front door” ecosystem, and they have to varying degrees created footholds among and between each other (Facebook + Uber for example).

What else is ripe to become more frictionless? Making objects (3d printing)? Learning (Lynda)? Remembering things (Evernote)?

The 'Square' Card Reader

Yesterday, after long delays, I finally got my Square card reader, so I thought I would put it through its paces.

What is Square? It’s a way of accepting payments from regular people using credit cards. You get this little card reader that just plugs into your smartphone.

It is dead simple. Let’s say you just sold your friend an old Ace of Base CD. They don’t have cash. You just insert the little card reader doohickey into your smartphone, punch in the sale price, and swipe his card. He signs and that’s it. You get your money (minus a small percentage) deposited into your bank account each week (up to about $1,000, beyond that they make other arrangements).

I like this service, though it might not be for everyone. I like it because it is one less reason to carry cash around, and the mechanics of making it work are pretty seamless. Plus, the equipment is as small as a single die.

Here’s a demo video of me paying myself, to show you how it works:

One of my very first clients when I started working independently (I hung out my own shingle back in November 2003) was a group called the Policy Consensus Initiative, along with its sister organization the National Policy Consensus Center. I will always be grateful to PCI’s founder Chris Carlson and NPCC’s director Greg Wolf for giving me that needed boost in the early days. My work with PCI-NPCC involved helping them develop a strategic plan along with some key language and taglines.

PCI-NPCC works to increase the adoption of collaborative governance (where office holders use their innate convening power to bring together all parties to craft solutions to hard problems, working across sector and across jurisdictions) at the state and local level. Getting everyone involved together to work toward a solution seems like common sense, but one interesting facet of this work is that many of the rules and structures in government make it very difficult to do this.

I was therefore excited to learn of a new bill passed in Minnesota that establishes a “Collaborative Governance Council,” that includes office holders as well as others, with the goal of reducing barriers to collaboration.

Here is the article from PCI-NPCC’s newsletter:

Rep. Marsha Swails (l.) and Rep. Carol McFarlane (r.) high five after completion of the bill establishing Collaborative Governance Council

Rep. Marsha Swails (l.) and Rep. Carol McFarlane (r.) high five after completion of the bill establishing Collaborative Governance Council

The Minnesota Legislature passed a bill that was signed into law to create a Collaborative Governance Council that will increase collaboration between state and local government.

The law creates a 12-member council to develop recommendations to increase governmental collaboration by:

  • reviewing laws and rules that slow collaboration efforts;
  • using technology to connect entities and share information;
  • modernizing financial transactions and facilitating credit and debit card transactions, electronic funds, transfers and electronic data interchanges; and
  • creating model forms for joint power agreements.

The council will include the State Auditor and a member of the League of Minnesota Cities; Minnesota Association of Townships; Association of Minnesota Counties; Minnesota School Board Association; American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 5; MN Chamber of Commerce; Education Minnesota; and Service Employees International Union.

The bill was a bi-partisan effort, co-sponsored by Rep. Marsha Swails and Rep. Carol McFarlane.

Initially, Reps. Swails and McFarlane convened a work group to examine shared services among school districts in Minnesota. Swails, a high school teacher, described the work group as “an informal process that was more like a classroom than anything else.” McFarlane and Swails traveled across the state together, attending Education Service Cooperative meetings, and heard more stories about the challenges local governments encountered in attempts to share services among school districts or among other units of government, such as fire departments. From these discussions, McFarlane and Swails realized that the question underlying many of these conversations was “what are the obstacles that keep communities from sharing?”

Swails noted that while some groups were initially skeptical of what the workgroup would accomplish, “Carol and I kept asking them to come to meetings. Building trust was key to getting people to want to be part of a solution, and so we did what we could to break down formalities. Carol and I sat at the witness table facing the group in the galley and engaged them in lively discussions rather than a formal hearing process”

As the bill passed in the House, 108-22, Rep. Swails twittered, “True bi-partisan work brought this to reality. Most important bill of my two terms.”

State auditor Rebecca Otto, who will chair the Council, said, “”Local governments are already collaborating, but we want to identify other areas where they could collaborate in these tight times. If there are laws in the way of allowing that to happen, we will make recommendations to change current statute.”

The Council’s first meeting will take place by July 30th of this year.

My latest article in my blog at the Washington Times Communities, Public Square Today:

20 Jobs Of The Future

Here comes the future by Flickr user Max Kiesler

"Here comes the future" by Flickr user Max Kiesler

As part of the UK’s effort to promote science and science literacy among its populace, the Fast Future consulting firm has developed a list of twenty “jobs of the future,” and released a report detailing their implications.

These are the jobs, according the the report, that “we could be doing” sometime between 2010 and 2030.

Like many futurist efforts, the list is part reasonable, part fanciful, and creates in the reader the sense of amused vertigo one gets from reading decades-old accounts of what 1994 will look like. We are still not driving in floating cars, and no one even in 2000 imagined what Facebook would do to us.

So the list ought to be taken with a grain of salt, though the authors of the study go to great lengths to argue for its validity. However, the list provides an interesting study of what people are thinking will matter and it is a useful exercise to think about what we might add to the list.

Here, from the report, are the twenty jobs of the future:

  1. Body part maker. Advances in science will make the creation of body parts possible, requiring body part makers, body part stores and body part repair shops.
  2. Nano-medic. Advances in nanotechnology offer the potential for a range of sub-atomic ‘nanoscale’ devices, inserts and procedures that could transform personal healthcare. A new range of nano-medicine specialists will be required to administer these treatments.
  3. ‘Pharmer’ of genetically engineered crops and livestock. New-age farmers could be raising crops and livestock that have been genetically engineered to improve yields and produce therapeutic proteins. Possibilities include a vaccine-carrying tomato and therapeutic milk from cows, sheep and goats.
  4. Old age wellness manager/consultant. Specialists will draw on a range of medical, pharmaceutical, prosthetic, psychiatric, natural and fitness solutions to help manage the various health and personal needs of the ageing population.
  5. Memory augmentation surgeon. Surgeons will add extra memory capacity to people who want to increase their memory capacity. They will also help those who have been over-exposed to information in the course of their life and simply can no longer take on any more information thus leading to sensory shutdown.
  6. ‘New science’ ethicist. As scientific advances accelerate in new and emerging fields such as cloning, proteomics and nanotechnology, a new breed of ethicist may be required, who understands a range of underlying scientific fields and helps society make consistent choices about what developments to allow. Much of science will not be a question of can we, but should we.
  7. Space pilots, tour guides and architects. With Virgin Galactic and others pioneering space tourism, space trained pilots and tour guides will be needed, as well as designers to enable the habitation of space and other planets. Current projects at SICSA (University of Houston) include a greenhouse on Mars, lunar outposts and space exploration vehicles.
  8. Vertical farmers. There is growing interest in the concept of city-based vertical farms, with hydroponically-fed food being grown in multi-storey buildings. These offer the potential to dramatically increase farm yield and reduce environmental degradation. The managers of such entities will require expertise in a range of scientific disciplines, as well as engineering and commerce.
  9. Climate change reversal specialist. As the threats and impacts of climate change increase, a new breed of engineer-scientists will be required to help reduce or reverse the effects of climate change on particular locations. They will need to apply multi-disciplinary solutions ranging from filling the oceans with iron filings, to erecting giant umbrellas that deflect the sun’s rays.
  10. Quarantine enforcer. If a deadly virus starts spreading rapidly, few countries, and few people, will be prepared. Nurses will be in short supply. Moreover, as mortality rates rise, and neighbourhoods are shut down, someone will have to guard the gates.
  11. Weather modification police. The act of seeding clouds to create rain is already happening in some parts of the world, and is altering weather patterns thousands of miles away. Weather modification police will need to control and monitor who is allowed to shoot rockets containing silver iodine into the air – a way to provoke rainfall from passing clouds.
  12. Virtual lawyer. As more and more of our daily life goes online, specialists will be required to resolve legal disputes which could involve citizens resident in different legal jurisdictions.
  13. Avatar manager / Devotees. Virtual teacher Avatars could be used to support or even replace teachers in the elementary classroom, for instance, as computer personas that serve as personal interactive guides. The Devotee is the human that makes sure that the Avatar and the student are properly matched and engaged, etc.
  14. Alternative vehicle developers. Designers and builders will create the next generation of vehicle transport using alternative materials and fuels. Could the dream of underwater and flying cars become a reality within the next two decades?
  15. Narrowcasters. As broadcasting media becomes increasingly personalised, roles will emerge for specialists working with content providers and advertisers to create content tailored to individual needs. While mass market customization solutions may be automated, premium rate narrowcasting could be performed by humans.
  16. Waste data handler. Specialists will provide a secure data disposal service for those who do not want to be tracked, electronically or otherwise.
  17. Virtual clutter organizer. Specialists will help us organise our electronic lives. Clutter management would include effective handling of email, ensuring orderly storage of data, management of electronic IDs and rationalizing the applications we use.
  18. Time broker / Time bank trader. Alternative currencies will evolve their own markets – for example time banking already exists.
  19. Social ‘networking’ worker. Social workers will help those in some way traumatised or marginalised by social networking.
  20. Personal branders. An extension of the role played by executive coaches giving advice on how to create a personal ‘brand’ using social and other media. What personality are you projecting via your blog, Twitter, etc? What personal values do you want to build into your image – and is your image consistent with your real life persona and your goals?

What about you? What job do you think should be on the list?

My latest piece is posted at Public Square Today, my blog at Washington Times Communities:

Review Of Livescribe Smartpen

Livescribe Smartpen
Livescribe Smartpen

For Christmas this year, some family members fulfilled a long-standing desire I’d had and got me a Livescribe Smart Pen. I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks now, and I think this product is a potential game-changer. As a tool for capturing, manipulating, and sharing notes on the go, it just can’t be beat.

The Livescribe is basically a special pen that works on special paper. The paper has a pattern printed on the background, which to the naked eye looks like a slight shading. The pen has a sensor that uses the pattern to determine where you are writing.

The pen records your pen strokes and can also record audio, connecting what it hears with what you are writing. This then syncs to desktop software. You can export the resulting pages into PDF and other formats, and share them in other ways.

I think this can be of great use to folks who are public leaders or are in the public eye. Such leaders need to always be recording, documenting, and sharing what they do but do not have the luxury of hanging around the office in front of the computer all the time. This can make all that much, much more seamless and simple.

You can see more about the Livescribe here and learn more about the company here.

(Affiliate link. I only include such links to products I endorse or trust.)