Thursday, 19 November 2015

What are you doing?

Drive down the road, you're in a rush! As best you try to avoid this, sometimes things just get out of hand. And you're late!

What's the hold-up? It's an old person who can barely walk, crossing the road.

You cope by taking a moment to reflect... to step back a few steps, mentally, and imagine yourself, at that age. 

That old person is you.

In the car, someone, clearly impatient, is waiting for you to cross.

While you're crossing the street, walking, you're not even thinking. It's only your subconscious barely reflecting back on your life. But for a moment, in a flash of clarity, you see the car... and the impatient person inside... you think of the person in the car, waiting for you... and you see your younger self, also once so impatient... in that car... so impatient...

And for another brief flash you reflect on your own life.

The person in that car is probably not much different from you, 50 years ago; similar plans, dreams, aspirations, hopes, commitments and problems...  in another economy, one that your generation left behind, one that you formed part of and tried to help shape...  yet, all things considered, one that even the greatest, most influential figures of your time barely managed to affect, despite their greatest efforts. 

Yes, you think... "we might have built statues and roads..." - But was it worth it? Is it really better now? Or did we only make ourselves feel good about ourselves? In all our accomplishments, did we really accomplish anything? Wasn't the world supposed to be better by now?

Yet... that person in that car sure doesn't look pleased. In fact... I'm sure my memory is not that foggy. I'm sure I was a little less antsy when I was that age...

- - -

If you had to disappear tomorrow, the world will carry on. 

What will you be remembered for, by people just like you. What do you remember other people for?

How many friends or loved ones have you lost and what do you remember of them? 

What have they left behind for you? Not exactly what you wanted? Not everyone wants the same things as you, and we seldom know ourselves well enough in order to be able to tell others what we want or need, so asking is often pointless.

One thing is certain, if you don't know what those who matter most to you really want, you had better start paying attention - and often what they do for you, is what they want.

If what they do for you is really not what they want, then chances are they're the smart ones and it's safe to ask them directly what they want - in which case all you have to do is to listen - listen carefully - and remember! Make notes if you have to. 

Remember it, when things get hecktic - in the thick of things!

Because that's when things get hecktic - when you forget, and that is when you need to remember it most!

You have to consider that - maybe the future is now. Maybe the human condition will never change, no matter what you do, new challenges will come up and and while the means and circumstances may change, the challenges of people and their reactions may not, unless we managed to overcome our innate belief that life is about us.

Life is about us paying attention, and listening... and not jumping to conclusions or solving problems that don't need solving... or that might have been solved ages ago, but because we think we know better, we still haven't gotten the memo.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

On good men who do something

History is littered with many good men, who stood tall in the face of evil.
Men who were ultimately overrun by that evil.

Yet, there are those rare few who not only stood tall, but managed to change the course of history, even if only for a relatively brief span of time...

What separates the former from the latter?

I will tell you what: Nothing.

The difference: the good men who stood behind them.

All good men are the same. All good men are one. All good deeds are equal.

Although we are easily tricked into believing it, greatness is not determined by the size of the evil it opposes.

But what if my evil is your good? Perhaps all the world needs is a concise, precise consensus and definition of evil. It struck me that the best research published in history all seem to start with concise definitions.

...And it is not something that I have seen academically well defined; only in religious writings, where it's wrapped in symbolism and code. There's nowhere where you can read a concise, peer-reviewed, well-known paper on the definition of evil.

Or is there?...
The first hit is

Well, isn't that just a shifting of the goal posts? "Evil isn't what we thought it was, it's something different." And again, just like religious writings, acedemic writings are wrapped in tradition and definition that are meaningless to the man on the street.

Is it really a moving target, along with "good". An ephemeral concept, that once you think you have it, it changes... does it change in the same ways for different people, as they experience more of the world? And is there a definition that most people will eventually settle on, that is not in contradiction with those of another, or that if that is so, that definition could easily be swopped for the agreed-upon right one?

I dare say there is. But what if that is indeed our conundrum, and that the state of the world can be explained by how easily good can be mistaken for evil?

Let's track back to where I started:

Read that, translate that, colour the sketch you have in your mind of history a bit, and then re-read this post...

Do you see the outlines of an archetype forming in your mind... the same one that powers the good times that you don't appreciate with the same vivacity if you haven't lived through the bad. Or can you? Can you learn from the mistakes of others and do the substance in their story carry the same weight as what they paid for with their life, even if you don't?

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

How do you lead a free market?

 My question is: How do you lead an industry with the necessary vision to keep everything as lean and everyone as efficient and productive as possible?

How do you incentivise:
  • manufacturers to innovate, in order to not have to rely on marketing and engineered obsolescence to sell more product than is needed
  • infrastructure builders to share resources, in order to save costs which can get passed on to the public,
  • service providers and workers to specialize, and not spread themselves too thin, in order to avoid the "jack-of-all-trades" trap and rather to do one thing, and do it well and proper, 
  • and everyone to charge the fair price that will give them the majority of the market share right away, without having to wait for competition and market forces to force them to charge less. (As a bonus, less competition will in turn reduce market fragmentation and overly redundant standards and infrastructure.)

  • how do you get the banks and governments to buy into and play their part in this big picture of efficiency, and
  • the public, to understand how it all fits together and to understand the voting power of the money in their wallet
Money which represents value and abundance, which they will ultimately have more of, to spend on more useful things that will have been invented in the absence of companies just churning out more versions of the same made-to-break items...

In a nutshell, how do you institutionalize a distinction between necessary and unnecessary work? Does unnecessary work have a place in our society?

I have a lot more to learn, share, ask, and debate on this...

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Carrot vs Stick

I have a long list of customers who owed me money for work done, for a long time, but eventually paid.

Why? Because I was always courteous, and never threateneing, and never gave them half a chance to demonise me or justify to themselves not paying. Fact of the matter is that people stops paying you when they can not afford to or they really don't know how - or because they're angry at you and feel like you really didn't treat them fairly.

Even so, they have a list of priorities... and will pay according to their list, so all you need to do is to stay on top of ther list by being non-annoying, courteous and friendly. Assuming they know full well what you did for them, of course.

*NB* This does not include people whom I forgot to invoice, or whom I invoiced late. That's a whole different matter, that is just as bad, if not worse. If you do not invoice people on time, you mess with their cash flow. It is your responsibility to make sure they know what they owe you.

So I repeat: It is very important to invoice people on time! Some companies have a clause in their contract that if they do not receive an invoice within 3 months, you agree that they are disclaimed from having to pay. Make sure your invoicing system works!

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Klout, Right and Wrong, and "legal physics"

...In the end, the law demands a lot of respect - because it's always on the side of the person that knows it best.

Even if that is a bad entity with bad intentions - you being on the "right" side with the "right intentions" counts for nothing. The law isn't about right and wrong, it's about who respects- and plays by the rules.

It seems that there is a law of legal physics: for every law there is an equal and opposite loophole. And a second law of legal physics: the number of loopholes at your disposal increase proportionally to the amount of money you spend.

I used to have a fundamental, moral problem with this. But I've come to realize that money is the ultimate klout. There's no better, more universally accepted way to prove that you can do what you say you can, than by having the money to show for it.

Yes, sadly people can make money by stealing, and exploiting the law, too... but if you can take the bad with the good, it's easy to be an optimist. If someone has come up with a better way to measure true klout, than wealth, I'd love to hear about it.

On the use and abuse of contracts

I've recently done a lot of work to provide service to a customer, whom, I found out at the last minute, was tied into a 2 year contract with a service provider, for a product wholly inadequate for what he got it for.

As a friend so eloquently put it:

On the surface a contract seems like a two way street:
  • I have something that you can have and here are my terms; and
  • You have something I want and if you give it to me here are my terms
However, upon closer inspection of most contracts are lopsided so it's rather a case of:
I have something that no one else has. You can have it if you play by my rules. Sorry you're desperate sign here.

Yes, we do have a "Consumer Protection Act" - but it really only protects the little guy and really small business - and only within bounds.

In terms of contracts generally the end-customer is at the end of a long chain of contracts. So if the end-user stops paying his contract, the 2nd tier ISP ends up with cash-flow problems honoring his contracts; who, if in turn stops paying their contract, will end up being legally bullied by the heavily financed 1st tier guys who supplied them, and so they will just pass on the legal bullying to their customers.

In fact, I think a lot of smaller guys learn their tricks the hard way, from the bigger guys.

But, it's an evil cycle that can only be broken in an ecosystem that doesn't rely on NDA's and big finance. Which is why I am such a proponent of "organic growth".

That said, one mistake that I've made in the past, was to assume that, just because I play fair and am reasonable, doesn't mean that I can expect anyone else to. I learnt this the hard way, and had to cough up lots of money for services I never received, to someone who deserves to rot in jail.

Another lesson that I think I am busy learning - but the verdict is still out: some things require big finance. A business that can take 10 years to build, can be built in a year with the right finance. The problem is that if it fails it causes a lot more destruction. If it succeeds, it can prevent a lot more disruption and it can prevent fragmentation of markets and the inefficiency that comes with that, by rather unifying them by creating much needed gravity around a certain thing.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Free Markets, Duplication and Fragmentation...

To me, the free-market dynamics enabled by more open access to information and the power of free markets to solve problems, is irrefutable.

However, many companies' only competitive edge is purely in the supply and distribution chain that they have found, and they necessarily sees the democratisation of this sort of information as a threat. Many hide their contracts and pricing behind NDA's in what is in my opinion a lazy effort to hang on to their already declining relevance.

Additionally, it seems that the business case for many modern businesses is solely acting as agents, procuring things; enabling collaborative buying - examples range from the Groupons and PriceChecks of the world, to the real-time bidding employed when selling everything from advertising space to electricity (in countries like the USA where all power is produced privately.)

The problem with a lot of competition on infrastructure-type services, is however twofold: 1) You get a lot of duplication 2) You get market/standards fragmentation - although these lead to a fair price in the short term, in the long term the market as a whole has to bear the costs for this unnecessary duplication.

But duplication, in my opinion, is the lesser of two evils, when weighed up against regulation that dictates how and what you can and can not do.

Duplication, at least, leads to thriving industry and more efficient production through driving competition, where regulation merely serves to drive an information economy of regulators which increases our taxes, fattens our government and ultimately adds little value to society.