Saturday, 28 June 2008

“The future of computing is out of our hands” – How Cloud Computing Will Change our World

There has, in recent years, been a large shift in how we access and use our software and data. Whether we consider home or business users, the ‘typical’ model of having all your programs and data on your ‘PC’, has evolved to the point where now, even for business critical uses, our software and data are stored and delivered completely online.

International economics & business journal “The Economist” summarises well, the background of how this change has been brought about. In their words, “Computing is undergoing one of its great periodic shifts. In its early days, most computing took place on mainframes. Ever-falling costs led computing to shatter- first into minicomputers, then into personal computers (PC’s) and, more recently, hand-held devices. Now communications is catching up with hardware and software and, thanks to cheap broadband and wireless access, the industry is witnessing a pull back to the middle. This is leading much computing to migrate back into huge data centres. Networks of these computing plants form ‘computing clouds’ – vast, amorphous, delocalised nebulae of processing power and storage”
For businesses, the shift towards “Software as Service”, “Communications as a Service” and “Infrastructure as Service” (all of which are types of ‘cloud computing) is well underway, with proponents such as Salesforce having led the revolution, and many businesses now operating completely via internet platforms. The concept expands to include everything from IP telephony, to the physical storage infrastructure of a company, in all cases, they pay for ‘what they use’ and have massive expansion capability, remote access, redundancy and a whole host of other benefits. Market leaders such as Microsoft have even started to offer their most popular desktop tools (eg: Microsoft Office) as completely internet based platforms. The example of Microsoft having been seen in their shift of commitment from “…a computer in every desk and every home” to, “supply services to every desk, every home, and every hand”.

For consumers, the shift towards cloud computing has been slightly slower, but is gathering incredible pace. Many of us are now accustomed to using completely web-based tools for email, and for our photographs. More recently a number of companies have even started to provide online storage and backup, allowing you to push all of your data onto a remote server giving “redundancy, security, and access from anywhere”.

In the academic world, cloud computing has been around for quite some time, with ‘grids’ of supercomputers, and ‘clouds’ of users (eg: SETI@Home) having been used for over a decade to aid in solving complex mathematical and scientific problems. Many in academic circles would argue (and I would agree) that the internet itself is, when aggregated, the largest example we have of a cloud computer.

There has, though, been a [large] degree of resistance to a more widespread and fluid shift from desktop to cloud-computing. To consider this resistance, we must understand that it is only recently that society has, for the larger part, come to terms with the concept of ‘computing’ as we went from no computers to ubiquity within a single generation (thanks to Bill Gates & his counterparts). To put such faith in computing took a huge change in thinking for society, but the change was, to a degree, made easier by the fact that we could see the physical ‘boxes’ doing the work (the desktop computers, servers, storage units etc). This allowed us, as a society, to delegate tasks to computers while still retaining ownership and control of the hardware (thus, we maintained control over its security and health, and were not dependent on individuals or companies for its existence). This could be likened to a “bricks and mortar” approach to computing (in the same way that many were happier purchasing their property and having control, rather than delegating the ownership of their home to a landlord and renting).

Cloud computing brings about a whole new range of psychological issues which society must conquer before these technologies reach the same level of ubiquity within society as other forms of computing have.

A few weeks ago, in a cafĂ©, I was with an associate who asked my opinion on “online backup” questioning whether it was safe. In the same week, a client I consult for exhibited a great deal of resistance to a shift towards an online accounting system as they, “…didn’t feel comfortable with someone else controlling their data”. These attitudes are rather symptomatic of an underlying distrust society has for cloud-computing, the reasons for this can be broken down into a few areas:

• Ownership of Data:
Individuals and businesses are naturally protective over their data with the former often having ‘paranoid’ and ritualistic backup regimes to give maximum redundancy. There is also a psychological element where one places a great deal of value on data as an asset (however amorphous it really is) and thus is unwilling to delegate its physicality to another party.

• Security:
This concern is rather more obvious, and involves the security of their data whether that be against electronic attack (eg: hacking), or physical security of the data centre where their application/software is housed.

• Redundancy & Reliability:
Particularly in ‘uncertain’ economic times, individuals and businesses have a relatively risk-managed approach to things. In context of cloud computing, many are unwilling to delegate business critical operations (eg: their accounting systems/communications) or personal computing requirements (eg: all their photos/documents/music) to organisations fearing the ‘what if…’ scenario (in case the service provider goes under). In the same context, reluctance also spreads to considering the reliability of these services, and whether or not they will always be available when needed.

It is clear to see how many of these reasons are mitigated with “desktop” computing where the user has responsibility and ownership of data, software, etc.

We have, though, as a society, faced similar challenges in our history. As society developed trade (eg: agriculture and commodities in roman times), the emergence of banks appeared to facilitate this trade which, eventually, evolved to the concept of “Banking” as we see it now, where we, as individuals and as businesses, fully delegate the management of (potentially) our most valuable assets to companies in the full trust that they have the infrastructure, security, and stability to manage and maintain those assets efficiently on our behalf, giving access when and where we demand. While the ‘credit crunch’ has certainly hampered people’s trust of many financial institutions, this delegation still holds true.

Thinking laterally on this, it is clear to see that it takes a great degree of trust for us, as a civilisation, to delegate our assets to these organisations, as without them, we would hoard our money in bags or as physical commodities (eg: gold), and would have to go to great lengths to secure it and transact it. Let us apply this paradigm to computing where, currently, we are in the ‘dark ages’ of the industry and tend to hoard our computing resource physically and are, as individuals/businesses responsible for its safety and security. We also (through laptops, cd’s, vpn’s etc) have to go through great effort to mobilise and transact our data and resource.

The facts are, though, that providers of cloud computing (eg: Microsoft, Google, Amazon, etc) are, potentially, far more equipped than we, to guarantee the security and access of our computing resource and data. Their data centres have incredible levels of redundancy and security, and are specified for future growth with awesome amounts of power. A simple search on google (a cloud in its own right) will reveal the power and capacity of data centres (Microsoft, for example, are adding more than 10,000 servers PER MONTH to their cloud computing capacity). It stands to reason also, that by remotely storing all our applications and data, that access will be easier as, from any internet connected device, we will have instant access to all our business or personal computing. This phenomenon is especially important as globalisation and advances in transport have meant that we, as a global civilisation, are far more mobile than ever before, and as personal computing (ie: in hand or on desk), becomes ever more powerful, and communications become faster and cheaper, we are able to access these resources with the same level of immediacy as if they were physically on our local network or desk. These organisations even build global redundancy into their systems with data and applications being ‘spread’ across massive delocalised global networks and across a chain of data-centres (each of which often costs in the hundreds of millions of dollars).

From a financial and economic point of view, the risk of hosting ones data and applications on cloud platforms is similar to the risk of allowing a bank to manage your money. If the bank suddenly ceased to exist (not withstanding any legislative protection) your ‘virtualised’ assets (ie: your money) would disappear. We do, though, give credence to the scale and scope of banking organisations that, in the main, this is a fairly unlikely occurrence (ie: we psychologically de-risk a banks failure to the point where it is so unlikely, we are largely happy to consider it a non-event). The organisations who provide cloud-platforms often have the same level of scope and scale, many are publicly quoted companies and have similar market capitalisations to some banking organisations (Google currently standing at USD168bn, Microsoft USD257bn and, by way of perspective, Barclays Bank GBP 24bn, HSBC GBP 93.4bn, Bank of New York USD 47bn). When considering these financial figures, the obvious argument is that banks hold physical assets and liquidity (lets take derivatives and so forth out of the equation) providing a great deal of security. This argument is countered with the fact that internationally it is clearly accepted that intellectual property itself is a secure financial asset (proof being the launch of patent brokerage as a financial derivative). Many of these large tech companies also have incredibly strong balance sheets with significant amounts of cash and assets (larger, as viewing their balance sheets will show, than many private banks). My personal view is that if one considers risk, then global banks have a higher proportion of “risky” assets on their balance sheets (eg: credit derivatives and complex structured lending) than their global technology counterparts.

While our generation has grown up with a model of computing based on desktop architecture, the generation which succeeds us are, already, entering a computing environment where software, data, and communications exist as an amorphous on-demand resource provided by a range of companies worldwide. Platforms such as facebook have brought cloud computing to the masses with, at June 2008 “over 24,000 applications built on the platform [facebook] and over 400,000 developers building new social experiences.”. For that generation, then, the psychological constraints which hold ‘incumbents’ back, simply do not exist, and we can learn a lot from their attitude to computing to learn what the future will hold. A future which will impact the way we as individuals, and our businesses, see computing, and interact with data.

The future ladies and gentlemen, is not in our hands, but in the clouds.


Resources:

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Thursday, 26 June 2008

Answering the Big Question of "Why Design?" and the Need for Strategic Vision


Philippe Starck is one of the seminal designers of our generation, known for everything from hotels, yachts, restaurants, and bars, to his bold reworking of everyday objects such as juicers, chairs, toothpicks and brushes. Anyone who, like me, shares a passion for design will, at some level, have been intrigued and influenced by the works of this man.

In 2007, Starck gave a talk at TED on the meta-question of “why design?” his response was illuminating and beautiful, delivered in a manner of humility which foregoes his reputation as a global designer.Philippe starts with a discussion on “types of designers”, including Cynics (those who feel design is a weapon for marketing), Narcissists (who design for designers to appreciate), and those (like him) who design for results. To get these results, he says, you must get into the product. Using the example of a toothbrush, who owns it? What effect does it have on their mouth? What is their life like? What society are they in? what civilisation created that society? What species created that civilisation?

In Starck’s view, it is only when considering products at this level that you can truly understand them “4.5billion years ago”, he says, “life appeared as stupid bacteria from this soup, we evolved from that into fish, monkeys and into ‘supermonkeys’ as we are now”. “… our journey”, he continues, “is only half finished, and imagine those bacteria could not comprehend what we are now, and we cannot comprehend what life will be like in the future”. That, says Philippe, is our story, our poetry and our romanticism.

He continues, by talking about genius, and about our scope of vision, the level of our eyes being an excellent metaphor for genius. “nobody is obliged to be a genius in society” says Philippe, but “everyone has a duty to participate”. “We must all work to finish the story with love and progress. There are so many scenarios to play out in our civilisation. Ours was about becoming powerful and intelligent, we are almost akin to gods now, its almost done, we must understand that. In fifty or so years, we can finish our ‘civilisation’ and give our children the opportunity to take this knowledge and these tools, and, on their blank sheet, take the combined effort of the billions in our society, to create their own visions. A new story, a new poetry”.

“This underlying duty of participation and responsibility”, he says, is why he goes to work, “even if just to design a toilet brush.” That is his motivation.

This is an important attitude to have in business, as ultimately what we create, even at the smallest level, is part of the bigger system which becomes the legacy to the generations after us. It is foolish and arrogant for us, as a civilisation, to assume that “this is it, we are the last civilisation that will ever exist” (which is often how we act, in a very selfish sense). By making this assumption, we are not drawn to create better things or act in a way which contributes to the overall system of our world.

These concepts are part of the underlying need which we (as human beings) have for a strategic vision for motivation. For Philippe, his ‘sense of participation’ gives him the strategic vision he needs to be the best at his pursuit. For others, their vision may be different, but having an overwhelming, almost metaphysical, sense of ‘purpose’ gives a very powerful tool to bring motivation and direction. I have rarely met individuals who are successful (whether in life, business, academics or otherwise) who have got there without having some kind of vision like this for their lives.

In the modern environment, we spend a lot of our time thinking in the short term. We look at our immediate needs and objectives, and gear ourselves to satisfy these. A certain sense of satisfaction is inherent, but it very quickly leads to disillusionment and dissatisfaction when things go ‘off plan’. By giving ourselves a bigger picture to work towards (in business, or life) we are able to respond better to the volatility of life, but also able to more clearly understand the endgame for the effort we are putting in now.

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Sunday, 22 June 2008

The need for goodwill in economies

In a true capitalist economy, it is commonly argued that there "Aint no such thing as free lunch" (a phrase popularised by ...."a tradition once common in saloons in many places in the United States [in the 19th century]. These establishments offered "free" lunches, varying from rudimentary to quite elaborate, with the requirement that the partaker purchase at least one drink"). In business, the "no free lunch" principle can be seen on a regular basis where clients are entertained to encourage trade, where events are 'free' but one must give up data to attend, and more. In principle, this is no bad thing as rarely can someone justify an engagement of time or resource without a return.

However, increasingly in business as we experience massive levels of incumbent and external competition, and challenging economic times, many firms are opting to take the “No free lunch” principle, and transform it into the modus operandi, removing any level of flexibility.
To illustrate my point, let me give you an example from a recent engagement.

A client had room in a serviced office complex whose principles of “flexible” space were designed to allow for the nuances of start-up and smaller companies. The firm had a complement of four staff, but as cash-flow problems took hold, two were made redundant. The firm, in an effort to consolidate costs, approached the serviced office provider citing that a move to a smaller room was needed to allow trade to continue. The provider was totally inflexible, feeling they would rather the tenant went bust than move to a smaller room (citing a contract was in place).

From a pure legal standpoint, they (the service provider) were quite correct in their position (as a contract is a contract) but from a [pragmatic] business point of view, it could be seen that taking the stance that they would rather lose a client through liquidation than retain them by being flexible is rather counterproductive.

The example above is one of the many and increasing examples we see in trade (in all sectors) where businesses (who typically were flexible in their approach and conduct) have adopted very selfish attitudes to trade. The key element missing from their approach was “goodwill”.

The University of Princeton defines goodwill as:

1. good will: (accounting) an intangible asset valued according to the advantage or reputation a business has acquired (over and above its tangible assets)

2. good will: the friendly hope that something will succeed

For my mind, for a successful economy, BOTH of these types of goodwill need to exist. The former being the value of conceptual and other items in an economy (eg: Brand values, etc), and the latter (perhaps the more important of the two) being a buoyant and bullish attitude to the economy in general, a “mindset”.

If we consider the latter, the “friendly hope that something will succeed”, we see a mindset geared around developing businesses and developing economies. This type of goodwill is the same which is applied when investing in companies with good concepts, and when we collectively invest our energies (as employees) into companies we work for.

This goodwill is also seen (in a more metaphoric sense) by our investment, as individuals into relationships with our families, partners, children and friends. Taking this example, we can also clearly see that if we adopted a completely inflexible attitude, then breakdowns commonly occur. How many of us have seen our own, or other relationships break down for this reason?

Economies are built on interactions between an incredibly diverse group including companies, individuals, governments, and more. In a successful economy these interactions are done with due care to risk, and are done for reward, but to facilitate these transactions there must always be an element of goodwill which can, in many senses, be seen as the intangible incentive to start, invest or continue in a given transaction or activity.

By removing this goodwill incentive from economies, we are creating a crippling blow to trade.

Referring to my above example with the company in serviced offices…

Scenario A: The space provider remains firm, the client (tenant) goes bust and (as a small business) has few, if any, assets to liquidate. The space provider has followed their risk strategy to the letter, but has lost out.

Scenario B: The space provider (outside scope of contract) allows the client to downsize (reducing immediate revenue, but keeping some continuity) The clients firm recovers and upsize again (a positive response which gives continuity and more goodwill from both sides) or continues to go bump (in which case the space provider loses out but has potentially still gained an extra ‘n’ months of revenue).

Scenario B would seem more positive and logical (from a business point of view) but, in these risk averse times, it is disappointing to learn that “Scenario A” is the one which is most commonly played out.

I am, by no means, suggesting all firms take a lackadaisical attitude to risk, extending infinite goodwill to all, but what I am saying is that firms must realise the massive value of goodwill and flexibility as an intangible incentive to trade.

So please, before sticking to your guns, consider the full impact of your decision, as being flexible may, in the long run, be more profitable.

“Do your little bit of good where you are; its those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” - Desmond Tutu”

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Import/Export Data Goes Public, A Disruptive Change for International Trade

For any company invovled in import/export trade, 'knowledge' has long been one of the main sources of competitive advantage, in context (and simplified), this knowledge means:

1. Knowing who your customers are.

2. Knowing who your suppliers are.

3. Knowing what your customers buy and how much of it.

Unbeknown to many, Import/Export data is collected by Customs in the USA every day. This data has always been publicly accessible covering every shipment which has entered the united states since 2006, and covers importer, exported, date and port of entry, full addresses for both sides, product types and more. Until recently, though, there has not been an effective way to navigate this data.
Into the fore steps a company called "ImportGenius" (based in Arizona, USA) who have created two key products allowing you to, in their words,

"...get unlimited access to the entire ImportGenius database for your industry vertical, providing detailed information on every shipment entering the United States since 2006.You can search by product type, importer, exporter, date of entry, port of entry, loading port, importer's address, exporter's address and more. Or combine searches to further refine your results. ImportScan then returns in-depth information about every shipment matching your query. The results will include contact information for both the exporter and importer of the shipment, so you can find out where your competitors are sourcing their products overseas and where your overseas suppliers are selling in the U.S. The results can be easily exported to Excel or CSV format, downloaded or e-mailed to any address"

they also hone this service down to individual suppliers, allowing importers to, "Track your supplier's export activity to the USA. Which competitors are doing business with your supplier? What is your market position compared to them? Is your supplier honoring exclusivity agreements?"

This is an incredibly powerful service made simple by advances in data connection and search technology, and is one of many such sites which are bringing transparency to global business. This level of transparency is an empowering proposition (in terms of market research and enforcement of supply agreements), but is also very disruptive to the nature of business models in import/export, meaning that players in those markets must accept reduced competitive advantage, or seek more innovative ways to protect their margin and position.

It is rare for me to cover individual businesses within the remit of broad reaching business and strategic commentary, but ImportGenius for me is a great illustration of how we are facing increased transparency in international trade, which is bringing huge changes to the nature of value and disrupting 'classic' import/export trade (replacing it with value added and brand oriented organisations).

More articles on transparency of trade will appear on this site in due course.

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Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Technology is Changing Global Culture, and Changing our Businesses.




“Nokia researcher Jan Chipchase's investigation into the ways we interact with technology has led him from the villages of Uganda to the insides of our pockets. He's made some unexpected discoveries along the way.”

In this talk, Jan Chipchase gives his insight into the way that global culture has changed through our interaction with technology. His talk takes him from the western world, to India, to the villages of Uganda, and the results are startling. Jan gave this talk in March 2007, just over a year ago today, and in that time, many of the concepts which Jan discusses have transcended the realms of “maybe” and become real parts of our world.
His key tenets are:

The Immediacy of Ideas:
Big ideas come with change, and those changes are filtered globally, quickly (imagine, only a few years ago, social networking did not exist, and look now at how quickly and powerfully it has changed our culture)

The Immediacy of Objects:
The more that devices reduce in size, and increase in functionality (eg: ipod, iphone, $100 laptop), the quicker their rate of adoption (see the rate of mobile phone growth in Asia!). Their [devices] ubiquity also allow them to disseminate concepts such as banking to become quickly adopted, widely (eg: mobile banking in Africa).

The Pace & Direction of Innovation:
The ‘street’ (to quote Jan) will take devices and innovate. As long as technology meets their base needs, users will innovate and make devices better in ways that we cannot possibly anticipate. In the past year, in the software world, simply look at ‘platforms’ such as facebook api, google code, lego mindstorms (a famous case from Wikinomics) and more to see examples of how the consumer is now empowered enough to create their own products and services from the base ‘ingredients’.

Jan also discusses the concept of “conversation”, both in terms of the direct communication between people and the aggregated overall voice of a connected mass. His own view, and one which I share, is that the direction of this aggregated conversation will take a very interesting path as, in the next few years, over three billion more people join the network.

While there is a huge leaning towards mobile communication in his talk, every business needs to understand the implication of what Jan is saying. Regardless of your product or service offering, the scope of businesses is becoming global, the methods of interaction and consumption are changing, and the nature of ownership of ideas, technologies and concepts is evolving.

To give you a couple of examples, there are humble local-cafes in Manchester (my home town) now with presences on social networking sites, thousands of members worldwide, and a whole new level of interaction with their customers who now take a more participatory role in their venues activities. On a larger scale, many drugs companies (who used to be more secretive than Masons) are opening their doors allowing external scientists to collaborate on their innovations and product development (distributing IP rather than owning it).

I remember reading an article where Sophie Vanderbroek (CTO at Xerox’s Parc laboratory) said, “If you stand still, you become obsolete”. Never before in our world’s business environment has this been more true than now.

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Sunday, 15 June 2008

Darwinian Economics And The Problem With Our World

“Any change”, said Arnold Bennett (a 19th century British novelist), “…even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts”. It stands true of many situations in life, whether we take a view as individuals, families, or even populations. For many years, we (in Western societies at least) have been living an economic dream, with buoyant conditions, growth, and a financial system which seemed capable of generating money from nothing, making many people very, very rich. In the past five years, at least, economists and analysts have been warning banks, consumers and businesses that “something wasn’t right”, but those comments fell on deaf ears for those thousands who utilised the system to line their pockets, grow their empires and take on ‘lifestyle debt’.

These may seem like rather extreme views, but consider the past twelve months alone, where estimates have put over US$500bn being written off our economies, causing a lack of faith in banks, governments and our underlying financial system. I will not go into detail on the ‘crunch’ as many thousands of bloggers and newspapers already have done, but safe to say that we all agree that this seems to be the catalyst which is beginning to unravel flaws and errors in the global financial marketplace. These scenarios have also shown the keen-ness of governments, organisations, and (indeed) individuals to protect the status quo by shoring up the risky balance sheets of organisations by injecting further capital to maintain a system operating on parameters which many say are now ‘out of date’.While it is important to use intervention to prevent catastrophic outcomes, the approach needs, perhaps, to be more pragmatic as simply ‘plugging’ the system to keep it running (as we are doing now) will never cause the overall system to change and evolve as it needs to for future growth.

The same behaviours have been seen for the last half a century on the global scale, where governments have long used tools such as trade barriers and subsidies to control their own economic ‘status quo’. The World Trade Organisation (formed in 1995) has done much to research this and have to the pleasure/dismay of many people engaged in a variety of interventionist policies designed, in their opinion, to bring back equality into world markets at a macro level. Recent interventions include the proposed removal of US cotton subsidies which many in the world argued gave the US an unfair advantage and had artificially deflated the commodity prices (of cotton) on world markets. From the US point of view, the growing strength of world cotton producers (eg: China, Uzbekistan, Turkey, India, Pakistan) has put pressure on their own domestic producers who cannot compete with foreign prices. From the point of view of international manufacturers, the subsidies the US has introduced to protect their farmers has not only made their (international) produce less competitive in the large US market, but has also meant that the aggregate market price (given volume of US production) is lower. If we take a rank-outsider view, the US is (perhaps) adopting a counterproductive stance here, by protecting an industry which is no longer naturally competitive in the global market, and providing artificial support to maintain a status quo. If that support is removed, the industry would either innovate to create new value, or would falter and make way (in time) for a new area of competition (as has been seen in the 50 year transformation of the UK from a centre of global manufacturing, to a service industry hub). The problem, of course, is that by adopting this rank-outsider view, we instantly overlook the human impact of these changes which many would argue justify the support.

So how does this link us to Darwin?

Charles Darwin was the proponent of the now ubiquitous concept of natural selection which is a “process by which favourable heritable traits become more common in successive generations of a population of reproducing organisms, and unfavourable heritable traits become less common. Natural selection acts on the phenotype, or the observable characteristics of an organism, such that individuals with favourable phenotypes are more likely to survive and reproduce than those with less favourable phenotypes”. This process has evolved in popular thinking to lead to the concept of “Survival of the Fittest” which takes natural selection, and puts a twist on it to relate to a competition for survival or predominance. This phrase was originally applied by Herbert Spencer in his writing “Principles of Biology” in 1864. Spencer, it is seen, drew parallels to his ideas of economics on Darwin’s own theories.

If we see the global economy as a dynamic system, like our own organic world, we see paradigms of difference scales of organism (country vs. individual) along with examples of strength, weakness, reproduction, development traits and more. The problem is thus.

Whereas in our biological system, evolution has (with the exception of the intervention modern medicine) aided in the creation of creatures which are increasingly fit for purpose and resistant to extinction, the global economy has, as a sentient unit, constantly engaged in practices which (taking a rank-outsider position) go against the grain of ‘survival of the fittest’ by intervening to give the weaker members increased strength to remain competitive (as has been seen with bank bail-outs and government subsidies). The result is that we are using ever more complex techniques to support the life of a system, providing a ‘safety net’ against its natural evolution, and leaving us with a bloated inefficient global system which is no longer fit for purpose.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, something profound happened to britain which changed the socioeconomic and cultural fabric of the country, these changes filtered globally and created a bold new society. This change was the industrial revolution. With it came drastic effects for agricultural industries (which comprised a huge amount of the economy), but with these drastically negative changes came the creation of new industries (such as textiles, minimg, engineering, shipping, etc) and, overall, a stronger world. Imagine, for a minute, if these changes had been prevented by the government of the time introducing huge subsidies for agriculture and others to remove the incentive for society to change. Our world would be drastically different now.

We are undergoing a similar change now, as the communications and information revolution has taken us from industrialisation, through globalisation, and into a very transparent economy. The nature of competition and trade is changing, as is the structure of industry. This is a natural, profound, and important evolution for mankind, but one which is being prevented from playing out by counterproductive, arrogant and short-sighted policies of intervention and support which have created many of our current global economic weaknesses and inequalities (if, for example, western countries agricultural commodities were not subsidised, would it increase production in the third world aiding the growth of those nations out of poverty while forcing the western nations to innovate their economies into new industries).

For my mind, I doubt we, as a civilisation, yet have the foresight, power, or intellect to determine what is the appropriate outcome for the global economy as our decisions are based on historics which are (as many critics state) inappropriate for the modern world which, at our own admission, we do not yet understand.

I just hope that as our eyes open, those who take the positions of power within economies, industry and politics take heed of Darwin, and allow our world to evolve; becoming what it has the capacity to be.


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Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Making Time to Re-Ignite Your Inspiration in Business

The sky fascinated me when I was younger. Every time I saw it, the differences were beautiful, almost like a huge living tapestry framing our world, with colours and clouds in the daytime and the most beautiful stars at night. I used to be able to watch the sky go by, and get lost wondering. And then, all of a sudden, something happened… I grew up! And now? Like so many, I spend so much time looking at the ground, I never stop to see the sky.

Most entrepreneurs I meet are driven by the pursuit of a ‘goal’ (usually monetary), and they focus their lives around this, with every waking second scheduled to include endless meetings, work, corporate events, and more. “When I’ve made it I’ll relax” they all say, and years pass, decades pass, and suddenly in the last few years they have on this earth, they decide to enjoy the money they have (or worse, they never get the chance).
In my lifetime, I have met numerous individuals who fall into this trap. For as long as they can remember, they have been building their businesses, accumulating wealth, and procrastinating wildly about enjoying life. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen age, illness, and tragedy cruelly intervene.

Two years ago, I was sat with an old client in his beautiful (though eerily empty) Cheshire home. He’d retired from business, and was now taking the opportunity to enjoy life more. I worked with him on a couple of projects, and he’d suggested having a catch up. During his day, he had been an immensely successful entrepreneur, with business interests ranging from telecommunications, to property, luxury travel, and more. He had a beautiful wife, two beautiful children, and life seemed (from the outside at least) to be wonderful. Work took him travelling, created long hours, and even when at home, he was usually in his office working, giving his family this ‘comfortable bubble’ (as he put it) to exist in. And usually, when his kids asked to play, or his wife suggested spending some time, his answer was “sooner”. A few years ago, a single phone call changed his life, as he discovered his wife, and children had been killed in a car accident. “We don’t get time back” he said. Five simple words, with such meaning that in that instant, I understood.

Even in my own life, the pressures of work and coping with a daunting schedule have taken similar toll, with many friendships and relationships failing for lack of time, with a feeling that unless I work faster, I will fall behind! “It’s like your constantly drowning, and every now and again, you get to surface and for a brief second take some air” (As a wise man once described, speaking of the brief moments of happiness in his otherwise hectic world)

My client (in the above story) was right, though. Every day we get twenty four hours, we get them once, and they’re gone, another day passes, and no matter how rich we are, we’ll never get them back. Part of me takes this fact as indicating I should “pedal harder” to get the most out of my businesses, but a little voice in my head takes this fact as indicating I should, now and again, “stop and smell the roses” because, ultimately, you never know what’s around the corner, and with wasted time, comes regrets of what could have been, “The Future” said C. S. Lewis, “Is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is”

Recently, I’ve mustered up the willpower to listen to that little voice and you know what? I’ve started noticing the sky again, and noticing how beautiful it is, and how much it seduced me when I was younger……….

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